Senate appropriations body approves ag funding bill – High Plains Journal




The Senate Committee on Appropriations July 20 approved the fiscal year 2018 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill with funding for programs that support American agriculture, conservation and nutrition programs.

The bill provides $145.4 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, $4.85 billion above President Donald Trump’s budget request and $7.9 billion below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. It contains $20.525 billion in discretionary funding, $352 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level, and includes $124.9 billion in mandatory funding. It was approved 31-to-0.

This appropriations bill was written to support U.S. Department of Agriculture agriculture, rural development, conservation and food and drug safety programs. It also provides essential nutrition assistance for children, families and seniors.

The bill restores funding for the mission area of USDA Rural Development, including the office of the Under Secretary for Rural Development, which the Trump administration budget proposal eliminated. It also extends crop insurance assistance to U.S. cotton producers.

“This bill funds many important programs that directly influence U.S. agriculture, public health and the overall quality of life in rural America. It adequately supports federal initiatives to improve agriculture production, research and support for rural economies,” Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-MS, said. “I commend (Agriculture Subcommittee Chairman) John Hoeven (R-ND), and (Ranking Member) Jeff Merkley (D-OR) for their bipartisan work on this bill. It deserves the support of the Senate.”

In a statement, Hoeven said, “We worked hard to maintain our agriculture budget and ensure that this legislation supports our farmers, ranchers and rural communities, especially in the face of such severe natural disasters. This legislation makes additional support available to areas struggling with drought, including funding to help move hay and livestock.

“In addition, we maintained a robust safety net, while also making strong investments in farm service programs, agricultural research and rural development programs to help make our agricultural communities strong and vibrant.”

Merkley said in a statement: “I was glad to partner with Chairman Hoeven on a bipartisan bill to provide significant resources for rural Americans and Oregonians, including investing in the effort to combat sudden oak death; innovations in mass timber; and in our organic farming economy.

“This bill rejects Trump’s budget blueprint, which gutted programs that support rural communities, and instead used the recent 2017 spending bill as a framework to invest in our communities that need it most.”

Bill highlights:

Assistance for Cotton Producers—The bill includes a provision, which seeks to address the ongoing economic challenges facing U.S. cotton producers, and the entire U.S. industry, by designating cotton as an “other oilseed” under Title I of the 2014 farm bill. This would allow cotton producers to participate in the Price Loss Coverage program just like all other major U.S. commodity producers.

The bill includes report language regarding a cottonseed policy and urges USDA to operate the Cotton Ginning Cost Share program beginning for the 2016 crop. In addition to the cottonseed policy that would be effective for the 2018 crop, the NCC is continuing to work with Congress and the administration on a Cotton Ginning Cost Share program for the 2016 and 2017 crop years.

Both policy initiatives are needed to help U.S. cotton farmers deal with ongoing financial stress and bridge the policy gap for cotton until the new farm bill is implemented. With market returns well below total costs of production, cotton producers face global market conditions that are affected by the foreign subsidies, tariffs and trade policies of other countries, as well as manmade fiber overcapacity.

Agricultural Research—$2.55 billion to support agricultural research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This amount includes $375 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, maintaining the increase provided in fiscal year 2017.

Formula research funding for land-grant universities is maintained at fiscal year 2017 enacted levels. The bill also rejects proposed extramural research project terminations and laboratory closures included in the budget request.

Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service—$953.2 million for APHIS, $143.2 million above the budget request and $7 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Overall funding will continue programs to control or eradicate plant and animal pests and diseases that threaten U.S. agriculture production. The bill maintains investments included in fiscal year 2017 for emergency preparedness/response for disease outbreaks and workforce development for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility.

Increases are provided to address wildlife damage management issues and tree pests.

Natural Resources Conservation Service—$874.1 million, $9.6 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $108.1 million over the budget request, for conservation operations to help farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners conserve and protect their land. The bill also includes $150 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program to support needed investments in rural communities.

Farm Service Agency—$1.521 billion for FSA for various farm, conservation and emergency loan programs important to the nation’s farmers and ranchers. It prohibits the closure of FSA county offices, and provides resources for personnel and physical security programs across county offices.

Food Safety and Inspection Service—$1.038 billion, $6 million above the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and consistent with the budget request, for food safety and inspection programs that work to ensure safe, healthy food for American families. The bill promotes the safety and productivity of the nation’s $186 billion meat and poultry industry by supporting more than 8,000 frontline inspection personnel for meat, poultry and egg products at more than 6,400 facilities in the United States. The bill provides full funding for FSIS to implement Siluriformes fish and fish product inspection.

Rural Development—$675.3 million for Rural Development salaries and expenses, the same level as fiscal year 2017.

Rural Housing Loans and Rental Assistance—$24 billion in loan authority for the Single Family Housing guaranteed loan program, equal to the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and the president’s request. It includes $1 billion for the direct loan program, which provides low-income rural families with home loan assistance. In addition, $1.345 billion is provided for rental assistance for affordable housing for low-income families and the elderly in rural communities to renew existing rental assistance contracts.

Business and Industry Loans—The legislation supports $1 billion in grants and loans for rural business and industry programs that promote small business growth in rural areas. The bill includes funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative to improve access to affordable, healthy foods in underserved areas.

Rural Utilities—$1.25 billion for rural water and waste program loans, the same as the fiscal year 2017 enacted level; $394 million for water and waste grants, and $18 million for the Circuit Rider program. The bill also provides $6.94 billion for rural electric and telephone infrastructure loans and $30 million for broadband grants.

Food and Drug Administration—$2.8 billion in discretionary funding for the FDA, $1 million over the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. Overall, total FDA funding, including user fee revenues, is $5.2 billion, which is $491 million above fiscal year 2017. The bill does not support new user fees or the associated cuts to budget authority as proposed in the budget request. Food safety activities are fully supported, and the bill provides $60 million as authorized in the 21st Century Cures Act.

Food and Nutrition Programs—The bill provides discretionary funding, as well as mandatory funding required by law, for food and nutrition programs within the USDA. This includes funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the Child Nutrition programs.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—$6.35 billion in discretionary funding for WIC, which is level with the fiscal year 2017 enacted level. This amount is based on USDA estimates of WIC enrollments and will not prevent eligible participants from receiving benefits.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program—$73.612 billion in required mandatory spending, which is outside the discretionary funding jurisdiction of the Senate Appropriations Committee, for SNAP. Due to declining enrollments, this is $4.868 billion below last year’s level.

Child Nutrition Programs—$24.243 billion in required mandatory funding, which is outside the discretionary funding jurisdiction of the Senate Appropriations Committee, for child nutrition programs. This funding will provide meals for an estimated 30.1 million participants. In addition, $53 million in discretionary program funds is also included for equipment grants and the Summer EBT Demonstration.

International Programs—$1.6 billion for Food for Peace grants, which support the delivery of American-grown food to foreign countries experiencing chronic hunger crises. The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program is funded at $206.62 million, and includes $15 million for the Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement at the Foreign Agriculture Service.

Larry Dreiling can be reached at 785-628-1117 or ldreiling@hpj.com.



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