Biden budget addresses broadband, research, wildfires, WIC
President Biden released a fiscal year 2022 discretionary budget request that includes $27.8 billion for the Agriculture Department, a $3.8 billion or 16% increase from the 2021 enacted level.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that the budget would expand broadband access, provide more money for agricultural research, extension and outreach programs, address wildfires by providing more money for forest management and increase funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
“The president’s budget provides the resources to build back better, stronger, and more resilient and equitably than ever before,” Vilsack said in a news release.
“This is our moment to solve big challenges by acting boldly — to close the broadband gap facing rural America; to work with farmers, ranchers and producers to transform our nation’s food system and build new markets here and abroad; to protect and manage our nation’s forests and grasslands from catastrophic wildfires; and to ensure Americans have access to healthy and nutritious food. The president’s budget commits to building back better and USDA is at heart of that historic commitment.”
USDA said the budget request would:
▪ Expand broadband access. — “Rural Americans are more than 10 times likelier than urban residents to lack access to quality broadband. The discretionary request provides an increase of $65 million over the 2021 enacted level for the Rural e-Connectivity Program “Reconnect,” which provides grants and loans to deploy broadband to unserved areas.“
“The benefits of high-speed internet will serve as an economic equalizer for rural America and the work of installing broadband will create high-paying union jobs with benefits in rural communities. This investment will build on the Coronavirus Relief Provisions provided in 2020 to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas.”
▪ Invest in critical research and development capacity for farmers — “American farmers must be able to leverage new technologies to compete in world markets, all while protecting our soil and water.
“The discretionary request provides $4 billion, or nearly $680 million above the 2021 enacted level, for USDA’s research, education, and outreach programs. These investments in agricultural research will advance innovation and the application of science-based and data driven agricultural decisions and practices.
“In addition, the discretionary request provides an increase of $161 million above the 2021 enacted level, to support a multi-agency initiative to integrate science-based tools into conservation planning in order to measure, monitor, report, and verify carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction, wildlife stewardship, and other environmental services at the farm level and on Federal lands.”
▪ Addresses the growing threat from wildfires — “Climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of wildfire seasons, transforming our nation’s forests at an unprecedented rate, and destroying homes and businesses.“
“The discretionary request provides nearly $1.7 billion for high-priority hazardous fuels and forest resilience projects at a scope and scale to meet the challenge we face, an increase of $476 million over the 2021 enacted level. This funding supports the administration’s science-based approach to vegetation management at the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to protect watersheds, wildlife habitat, and the wildland-urban interface.”
▪ Supports a strong nutrition safety net —“The 2022 discretionary request provides $6.7 billion, more than $1 billion above the 2021 enacted level, for critical nutrition programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, to help vulnerable families put healthy food on the table and address racial disparities in maternal and child health outcomes.”
“These funding levels will support an anticipated increase in participation in WIC and combat rising food insecurity, which has disproportionately harmed families of color.”
The budget request also contains a section titled Partners with Rural America to Grow Rural Economies and Tackle Rural Poverty.
“The discretionary request includes a number of proposals to invest in the assets of rural communities and create opportunity for rural Americans in rural America,” the section says.
“This includes more than $300 million in new investments in the next generation of agriculture and conservation, including support for private lands conservation, renewable energy grants and loans, and the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps to create a new pathway to good-paying jobs in rural America. The discretionary request also supports $6.5 billion in lending to support additional clean energy, energy storage, and transmission projects in rural communities, including communities of color.
“The discretionary request proposes $1.2 billion, an increase of $74 million over the 2021 enacted level, for the Food Safety and Inspection Service to bolster the capacity of small and regional meat processing establishments and ensure safe food production.”
In a news release, the White House also said the budget would help end the opioid epidemic.
“The opioid epidemic has shattered families, claimed lives, and ravaged communities across the country — and the COVID-19 pandemic has only deepened this crisis,” the news release said.
“The discretionary request includes a historic investment of $10.7 billion, an increase of $3.9 billion over the 2021 enacted level, to support research, prevention, treatment, and recovery support services, with targeted investments to support populations with unique needs, including Native Americans, older Americans, and rural populations.”
In a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and other congressional leaders, Shalanda Young, the acting director of the Office of Management and Budget, said, “Passing the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 was essential, but we know that more work remains.”
“That is why last week, the president also outlined a comprehensive strategy to reimagine and rebuild a new American economy — a plan that would create 2 millions of good jobs, rebuild the nation’s infrastructure, and position the United States to out-compete China and meet the great challenges of our time. The upcoming appropriations process is another important opportunity to continue laying a stronger foundation for the future and reversing a legacy of chronic disinvestment in crucial priorities.”
The president’s budget request to Congress covers only discretionary spending, not the major Agriculture Department farm subsidy, conservation and nutrition programs, which are considered mandatory funding. WIC is unusual among nutrition programs in that it is an appropriated program.
USDA noted that the release today is not the full budget.
“In the coming months, the administration will release a budget that will build on this discretionary funding request and detail a comprehensive fiscal vision for the nation that reinvests in America, supports future growth and prosperity, meets U.S. commitments, and does so in a fiscally sustainable way.” USDA said.
Leahy said in a news release that a “budget is where an administration can set its priorities, and it is clear from President Biden’s initial proposal that his administration’s priorities reflect the real needs of the American people.”
“This blueprint makes strong investments in Americans and communities who have not benefited from the economic expansion prior to the pandemic and who fell further behind because of COVID,” Leahy said.
“The budget proposes long overdue and historic investments in jobs, worker training, schools, food security, infrastructure and housing. It takes seriously the threat of climate change, the continuing scourge of the opioid epidemic, and the persistent crisis of mass gun violence in our country. And it continues to address the COVID pandemic by making an historic investment in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — the world’s preeminent public health agency — to support our public health system and prepare for the next emerging global threat.
“”Make no mistake, the investments proposed by the Biden administration are necessary and urgent. The Budget Control Act of 2011, which set decreasing caps on discretionary spending, has had devastating consequences despite bipartisan efforts to lift the budget caps.
“It is no accident our country was unprepared for the COVID pandemic and that our national stockpile of equipment like PPE and ventilators was woefully inadequate, nor is it surprising that our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling. It was the consequence of insufficient public investments, and this is a story that rings true across the entire country.
“I look forward to receiving the administration’s full budget in the coming weeks so that Congress can pass a budget resolution and the Senate Appropriations Committee can begin its work of marking up bills,” Leahy said.
In a broader view of the budget, The New York Times said, “The request includes increases in funding to address climate change, along with beefing up education, health research and the Internal Revenue Service.”
The Washington Post said, “The request marks Biden’s first-ever proposal for discretionary spending, a precursor to a fuller, annual budget slated later in the spring that will also address programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”
“The president’s early blueprint calls for a nearly 16% increase in funding across non-defense domestic programs, reflecting the White House’s guiding belief that bigger government — and spending — can close the country’s persistent economic gaps.”
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