FY16 Agriculture Full Committee Markup Bill Summary

Full Committee Mark: July 16, 2015
Washington, D.C. –The fiscal year 2016 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies bill provides a total of $20.51 billion in discretionary budget authority, which is $65 million below the fiscal year 2015 enacted level and $1.1 billion less than the President’s request.
The Subcommittee’s allocation conforms to the post-sequester caps under the Budget Control Act.  Not one Senate Democrat voted for these austere spending levels because they do not provide adequate resources to protect America, build infrastructure, create opportunity, and spur economic growth. We need a new budget deal, in the spirit of Murray-Ryan, that stops hollowing out investments in America’s future.
U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ranking Member of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, said:
“Senator Moran has worked hard to protect critical programs funded in this bill as well as to keep policy riders to a minimum.  I appreciate the bipartisan manner in which we’ve worked drafting this bill.  But more needs to be done.  In order to protect rural America, our nation’s food supply, and the most vulnerable citizens among us we must have a bipartisan budget agreement that moves this country forward.  I look forward to continuing to work with Senator Moran as we move through the appropriations process.”
U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Appropriations Committee, issued the following statement:
This bill helps American farmers, consumers, women and children, and I appreciate the efforts of Chairman Moran and Ranking Member Merkley.  But the bill is a status quo bill, because of the spartan, sequester-based allocation.  For example, instead of expanding a proven program like Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT), which helps children of low-income families access healthy food during the summer, this bill funds it at the same level as last year.  The bill also funds FDA, which supports 10,000 Maryland jobs.  However, FDA needs more resources to implement major portions of the Food Safety Modernization law and remain the gold standard for drug, medical device and food safety.  We need a new Murray-Ryan budget deal now, so we can provide adequate funding and stop hollowing out America. We cannot wait for a manufactured crisis to act.”
Key Points & Highlights
This bill funds the important activities of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  These agencies are responsible for programs that affect the lives of every American. 
Agriculture Research
  • Total funding for agriculture research is $2.6 billion, which is $46 million less than fiscal year 2015 and $488 million less than the budget request.  Every one dollar invested in agricultural research yields a return of $20 to the economy.  The bill does not include increases for antibiotic resistance, climate change or other research areas within the Agricultural Research Service.  The bill also does not include funding for reconstruction and repair of Agricultural Research Service labs. 
  • For the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, the bill maintains the fiscal year 2015 level and does not include a $125 million increase for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative – USDA’s premiere competitive research program.
Rural Development
  • Rental Assistance:  The bill provides $1.167 billion for Rural Development Rental Assistance, which is $78 million more than fiscal year 2015.  The bill does not include a proposal to impose a $50 per month minimum rent, but it does fund all expiring rental agreements, assisting over 259,000 very low income households.  Rental assistance tenants are usually elderly, disabled, or have female heads of household.
  • Water and Waste Disposal:  Total funding for water and waste disposal is $496 million, an increase of $32 million from last year.  With this funding, over 2.2 million rural residents will receive new or improved clean water and sanitary waste disposal service.
  • Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT):  The bill provides $16 million for Summer EBT, the same as fiscal year 2015.  This is $50.9 million less than the request.  More than 21 million children rely on free and reduced price meals at school, but only a fraction (3 million) receive free meals in the summer.  These are often the most vulnerable children and increased funding could benefit as many as 200,000 families each year.
  • School Meals Equipment Grants:  The bill provides $25 million for school meals equipment grants.  The same as fiscal year 2105, but $10 million below the request.  These funds are critical to ensure our children eat healthy food, and are used to replace outdated equipment such as refrigerators and ovens.  When this program was started in 2009, applications totaling over $640 million were submitted.  To date, only $160 million has been provided.  Schools need this money to serve our children better – an increase would help an additional 1,500 schools.
International Food Aid
  • PL 480 Title II:  The bill provides $1.466 billion for PL 480 Title II.  This amount is the same as fiscal year 2015 and $66 million more than the budget request.  With ongoing crises throughout the world, this program saves lives by providing food assistance, boosting the resilience of disaster-affected communities and supporting the transition from relief to recovery.
  • McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program:  This bill provides $202 million for the McGovern-Dole Program.  This is $10 million more than both fiscal year 2015 and the budget request.  The increase includes new funding for local and regional procurement, so food can be purchased closer to the recipients.  These funds will help millions of women and children around the world gain access to improved education and nutrition. 
Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
  • The bill provides $2.629 billion for the Food and Drug Administration.  While this is a net increase of $40 million above the fiscal year 2015 level, it is $106 million below the request level.  Some of the increases still don’t meet the President’s request, including a $45 million increase to implement major portions of the Food Safety Modernization Act, which is $60 million short of the budget request; a $3 million increase to combat antibiotic resistance, which is still $12 million less than the budget request; and a $2 million increase for FDA’s Precision Medicine Initiative, which falls $8 million below the budget request level.  FDA regulates products worth 20 cents of every dollar spent by American consumers, so these funds are vital to making sure our drugs and food are safe.
  • Major elements of the Food Safety Modernization Act are to be implemented at the end of fiscal year 2015.  Additional funding is required to train FDA employees, state and local officials, and industry, as well as to make sure that food coming from other countries meets U.S. standards.
  • The bill does not provide requested increases for implementing the FDA Safety and Innovation Act, oversight of drug compounding facilities or evaluating additional over the counter sunscreen products. 
  • Horse Slaughter:  Senator Udall’s amendment prohibiting funds for inspections of horse meat was adopted during the Full Committee markup.  The amendment effectively prohibits horse slaughter in the U.S.
  • Dietary Guidelines:  The bill includes a rider requiring the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans be based solely on nutritional and scientific evidence and not other information.  This would prevent the dietary guidelines from providing common sense recommendations regarding physical activity, and other recommendations important to healthy eating and lifestyles. 
Merkley Budget Amendment
During Full Committee markup, Senator Merkley offered an amendment to add funding for important programs in the Agriculture bill that was not included due to the spartan, post-sequester funding allocation.  The amendment would have provided an additional $890 million.  With the Merkley amendment, the bill would have totaled $21.4 billion in discretionary spending.  Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated on a party line vote.
Below is a summary of the amendment:
Agriculture Research
  • Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (+$125 million):  The amendment would increase funding for USDA’s premier competitive agriculture research program.  The program is authorized at $700 million, but during fiscal years 2013 and 2014, at least three-quarters of highly qualified research proposals went unfunded due to resource issues.  The President’s proposed budget would focus the increase on proposals related to pollinator health and antimicrobial resistance.
  • Capacity Programs (+34 million):  The amendment increase would be divided proportionally among five separate capacity (formula) programs, which provide funds on a formula basis to a number of land-grant universities for broad agriculture and forestry research and extension activities. 
  • Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) (+$3.35 million):  This increase would go towards the SARE Program, which provides grants for research on ways to grow agricultural productivity in a sustainable way. 
  • Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations (+$100 million):  The amendment would provide an increase of $100 million for Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations.  This program provides technical and financial assistance for states, local governments and Tribes (project sponsors) to plan and implement authorized watershed projects and improvements for watershed protection, flood mitigation, erosion reduction and other purposes.  These projects protect homes, infrastructure, agricultural lands and other vulnerable areas.
  • Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) (+$191 million):  EQIP is a highly popular mandatory program that pays farmers to install conservation measures on their land, but is limited by the appropriations process.  The Committee bill reduces EQIP funding by $191 million. 
Rural Development
  • Multi-Family Housing Revitalization Program (+$76 million):  The amendment includes $76 million for vouchers and low and zero interest loans and grants for rehabilitation of Rural Development’s aging $11 billion multi-family housing portfolio.   This program, as well as the Section 515 Loans program, incentivizes property owners to remain in the affordable housing program, protecting low-income tenants from facing unmanageable rent increases.
  • Section 515 Loans (+$30 million): The amendment would provide an additional $30 million for Section 515 loans.  This loan program is also used to construct or rehabilitate multi-family housing properties.  This proposal would be used to rehabilitate existing projects to try to keep them in the program.
  • Water and Waste Disposal Program (+$70 million):  The amendment would provide an additional $70 million for Water and Waste Disposal grants for construction and repair of clean water and sanitary waste disposal systems for small, remote rural communities.  This funding will help approximately 117,000 rural residents receive improved clean water and waste disposal services.
  • Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) (+$11.75 million):   The amendment would provide an additional $11.75 million for HFFI.  This would fully fund the President’s budget request.  This program provides incentives to attract grocery stores, farmers markets, etc., into “food deserts;” promotes increased accessibility of low income households to healthful, nutritious food; and supports the Administration’s commitment to reduce obesity and develop more nutritious eating habits across the country. 
  • School Equipment Grants (+$10 million):  The amendment would provide an additional $10 million for school equipment grants.  This would fully fund the budget request.  This program provides grants for school districts to purchase equipment to help make healthier school meals.  These equipment purchases are long-term investments that help schools serve healthier meals, improve food safety, expand access to school meal programs and improve energy efficiency. 
  • Summer EBT (+$50.9 million):  The purpose of this program is to provide access to food for low-income children during the summer months when schools are not in regular session by providing the families of low-income children with benefits similar to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), giving them more resources to use at retail food stores.   This increase would bring the funding level for this program to the President’s request of $66.9 million.
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) (+$5 million):  The amendment would provide an additional $5 million for TEFAP storage and distribution.   TEFAP commodities are purchased with mandatory dollars, but transportation, storage and administrative expenses are paid for with discretionary funds.  This would increase those dollars from $49.4 million to $54.4 million.
International Assistance
  • PL 480 Title II (+$50 million):  This would increase funding for USDA’s main food aid program to $50 million more than fiscal year 2015.  This program responds to emergencies and is mainly targeted to vulnerable populations in response to malnutrition, famine, natural disasters, and civil strife.  There is also a developmental component of the program geared towards meeting economic development needs that address chronic food shortages and food insecurity.  This amount will help approximately 1.3 million people.
  • McGovern-Dole Program (+$10 million):   McGovern-Dole projects help boost school enrollment, especially among girls.  The additional funding would allow the USDA to purchase more local and regional (instead of direct U.S.) commodities when responding to a food crisis or disaster.
Food Safety
  • Food and Drug Administration (+$103 million):  The amendment would nearly fund the President’s request for the Food and Drug Administration.  This would include the following increases above the Senate bill:  $60 million to implement major portions of the Food Safety Modernization Act, $12 million to combat antibiotic resistance and $8 million for FDA’s Precision Medicine Initiative, as well as increases for implementation of the FDA Safety and Innovation Act, oversight of compounding pharmacies and approval of additional sunscreen products.
  • Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP) (+$20 million):  BCAP provides incentives to grow sustainable biomass products that can be used for bioenergy.  The amendment would have restored the $20 million cut contained in the Committee bill.

Press Contact

Mara Stark-Alcalá w/Appropriations:             (202) 224-2667               
Merkley Press Office:                                   (202) 224-3753

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