SUMMARY: FY2018 Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bill Gains Committee Approval
WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, July 20, 2017) – The Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday approved the fiscal year 2018 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies bill that provides a total discretionary funding level of $20.525 billion, which is $352 million below the fiscal year 2017 enacted level and $4.8 billion above the President’s request. The bill does not contain poison pill riders.
Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ranking Member of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies subcommittee said:
“This bill was developed in a bipartisan manner, and funds programs that Americans rely on every day, protecting them from the devastating cuts proposed in the Administration’s budget. The bill maintains important food and drug safety programs, rejects the President’s proposal to eliminate vital rural housing, small business and clean water programs, and protects agricultural research programs that help our farmers and ranchers continue to be the most productive and efficient in the world. But we continue to be limited by Budget Control Act caps that cause many important needs to be left behind, including rural infrastructure, conservation, education and more. We need to work together to develop a bipartisan budget agreement to lift these caps, so we can give Americans the budget certainty and smart investments they deserve.”
Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said:
“I want to thank Chairman Hoeven and Ranking Member Merkley for producing a bill that was drafted in a bipartisan manner and rejects the misguided cuts proposed by the Trump Administration, which would have devastating effects on rural communities. It makes valuable investments in promoting clean water systems and investing in Vermont’s farmers and funding critical programs to address global hunger. However, as a whole, this bill is still woefully inadequate to meet our nation’s needs, and we can do better. We must reach a bipartisan budget agreement that allows us to raise the budget caps and properly invest in our communities. The appropriations process cannot be completed without it.”
The agriculture bill funds the activities of the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The funding in this bill impacts the lives of every American. It includes programs that provide a better quality of life for rural Americans, programs that protect the environment, programs that help our farmers and ranchers succeed, and domestic nutrition programs that help feed low-income Americans and children. It also contains international food aid funding, which is vital during this time of unprecedented hunger worldwide. The Food and Drug Administration ensures the safety of the food and drug supply in an increasingly complex world. Although the President wanted to slash the Department of Agriculture by nearly a quarter and cut FDA funding by more than a third, this bill rejects nearly all of those devastating cuts, and protects most programs at the fiscal year 2017 level.
Key USDA programs are described below.
Total funding for agriculture research is $2.8 billion, which is $300 million more than the President’s request.
- Agricultural Research Service: USDA’s premier in house research agency, the Agricultural Research Service, is funded at $1.18 billion, which is $12 million more than fiscal year 2017. The bill does not allow for the termination of research programs or the closure of laboratories.
- National Institute of Food and Agriculture: Total funding for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture is $1.4 billion, which is $7 million more than fiscal year 2017. Included in this funding is $375 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which is still short of the authorized level of $700 million, $30 million for the Sustainable Agriculture and Research Education Program, and $5 million for the Organic Transition Program.
Agricultural Marketing Service
- The Agricultural Marketing Service includes a $3 million increase to the National Organic Program, the first programmatic increase for this program in several years. This brings total National Organic Program funding to $12.094 million. At a time when the organics industry is growing at an extremely rapid pace, this increase is important to protect the value of the USDA organic seal, ensuring that consumers can remain confident in the integrity of these products.
- The bill provides a slight increase for conservation technical assistance, which helps producers implement voluntary conservation measures on their farms. The budget proposed to cut funding for these activities by more than 10 percent.
- The bill also maintains funding for the Watershed and Flood Prevention program, which provides technical and financial assistance to local entities for watershed structures, easements and land treatments for mitigating flood risks. This important infrastructure program, which protects homeowners and public facilities, was eliminated in the President’s budget. Yet, even with this funding, a significant backlog of funding needs remains.
Funding and program levels for Rural Development are all generally maintained at fiscal year 2017 levels.
- Housing Programs: This bill rejects the President’s proposal to eliminate single family and multi-family housing direct loans. These programs offer homeownership opportunities and affordable rental housing for very low and low income rural households. One billion dollars in single family housing loans and $35 million in multi-family housing loans are provided. Rural housing needs, however, continue to significantly outweigh the assistance provided in this bill.
- Water and Waste Disposal Programs: The bill rejects the President’s proposal to eliminate loan and grant programs that enable remote rural communities to obtain clean water and sanitary waste disposal systems. Over $1.75 billion in loans and grants are provided, which will assist over 2.2 million rural residents. Even with the rejection of the President’s budget proposal, a backlog of more than $2 billion in needed upgrades to safe and sanitary water supplies remain.
- Rural Business Programs: The bill rejects the President’s proposal to eliminate loan and grant programs that promote rural business development and income growth. Almost $1 billion in rural business development loans and grants are provided.
- Community Facilities Direct Loans: Community Facilities direct loans (that can be used to finance any essential community facility, including libraries, hospitals, health care centers, adult and child day care facilities, etc.) are increased by $400 million, from $2.6 billion to $3 billion.
The nutrition programs funded in this bill are an important safety net for some of the most vulnerable Americans. This bill protects all nutrition programs and rejects the budget proposal that would have devastated participants of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
- Child Nutrition Programs: Total funding for Child Nutrition Programs is $24.296 billion, which is $1.5 billion above fiscal year 2017. Included in this funding is $30 million for school equipment grants and $23 million for Summer EBT.
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): The WIC programs play an important role in ensuring healthy pregnancies and the healthy growth of children. The bill provides full funding for the program. The funding level also provides an increase of $20 million for breastfeeding peer counselors.
- Commodity Supplemental Food Program: The bill provides $238 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program. These funds will provide seniors with healthy and nutritious supplemental food.
International Food Aid
The bill rejects the budget proposal to eliminate important international food aid programs. America has a long standing tradition of providing urgent food aid to those in need worldwide. Currently, the world is witnessing a humanitarian crisis not seen in 70 years.
- PL 480 Title II: Although the President’s budget proposed to take aim at the most vulnerable people in the world, this bill rejects that proposal and maintains funding for PL 480 at the fiscal year 2017 level. However, needs for this program worldwide are growing exponentially, as the world is watching at least one famine take place, and several other countries are on the verge.
- McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program: The McGovern-Dole program is funded at $206 million, which is $5 million over fiscal year 2017. Included in this funding is $15 million for local and regional procurement. This program, which provides food to children in school in developing countries, is often the only reason those children, especially girls, keep coming. The President’s budget proposed to end this program.
Food and Drug Administration
This bill rejects the budget proposal to cut the FDA’s funding by more than one-third. This cut would have decimated funding for food safety, drug and device approvals and safety monitoring, blood safety and preparedness programs. The bill maintains the Food and Drug Administration’s funding at the fiscal year 2017 levels. It also includes $60 million provided in mandatory funding through the CURES Act for advancing new drug therapies.
Dairy and Cotton
At the request of Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and Vice Chairman Leahy, the bill includes bipartisan provisions that make crucial improvements for dairy farmers and cotton farmers who are struggling with low prices and Farm Bill programs that have fallen short of providing the protection required of an effective farm safety net.
The package makes significant updates to the Margin Protection Program (MPP) for dairy farmers that will improve the program’s effectiveness and offer greater incentives to farmers to participate in the insurance program and select higher more meaningful levels of protection.
Senate Appropriations Committee Republicans rejected the second in a series of amendments offered by Committee Democrats intended to highlight what Congress could and should be doing to invest in the American people. The amendment focused on specific infrastructure needs faced by rural America, which are being shortchanged by the current, arbitrary funding caps set under the Budget Control Act. The amendment would have bolstered infrastructure investments in rural America by $1.715 billion, which are not being adequately funded under the current, arbitrary funding caps set by the BCA.
Rural investment highlights in the Merkley Amendment rejected by Committee Republicans included:
- $150 million for clean drinking water and sanitary waste disposal systems, that would have funded over $2 billion in loans and $106 million in grants and assisted 2.5 million rural residents.
- $1 billion in available loans would have provided nearly 7,000 low income rural households with the opportunity for home ownership.
- $950 million in loans and $107 million in grants that would have enhanced access to high speed broadband service in rural areas.
Our country’s infrastructure is in desperate need of assistance, and these investments are long overdue. Each would have helped to make our rural communities more competitive, created jobs and spurred their economies. This is the complete opposite of the President Trump’s budget proposal, which would decimate rural America.
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