Senate Ag Approps approves spending bill | TheFencePost.com

Senate Ag Approps approves spending bill

-The Hagstrom Report

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee on Tuesday approved the fiscal year 2019 bill to fund the Agriculture Department and related agencies.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Thursday.

The bill recommends $145.1 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding, $6.2 billion above President Donald Trump's budget request and $710 million below the fiscal year 2018 enacted level.

The discretionary funding in the bill totals $23.2 billion, $225 million above the FY2018 enacted level. Mandatory funding in the bill totals $121.8 billion.

"Our farmers and ranchers provide our nation with the food, fuel and fiber necessary to meet our needs, and they do so in spite of challenges from low commodity prices to unpredictable weather," said Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D.

"We worked hard to ensure that this funding legislation supports the priorities of our producers and rural America. The investments made in this bill reaffirm our commitment to being at the forefront of production agriculture and to providing our rural communities the ability to compete — both here and abroad," Hoeven said.

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Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., said, "This bill funds important programs that Americans rely on every day. It was developed in a bipartisan manner, and soundly rejects devastating cuts proposed by the administration that would have eliminated vital rural housing, small business and clean water programs."

"The bill also protects conservation and agriculture research programs that help our farmers and ranchers continue to be the most productive and efficient in the world, and maintains significant investments in rural broadband and water and wastewater programs," Merkley said.

"We provide important funding for the Food and Drug Administration to enhance their food safety efforts and their work to address the opioid crisis, as well as to modernize the generic drug review system. Many of these investments were made possible because of the Bipartisan Budget Act, and will improve the quality of life for all Americans."

In addition to the provisions highlighted in the majority news release, Merkley pointed out that the total funding includes $6 million for the Organic Transition Program and a $3 million increase to the National Organic Program, bringing total National Organic Program funding to $15 million.

"At a time when the organics industry is growing at an extremely rapid pace and imports of organic foods are increasing significantly, this program is important to protect the value of the USDA organic seal, ensuring that consumers can remain confident in the integrity of these products," Merkley said.

According to a Senate Appropriations Committee news release, following are the bill highlights:

Agricultural Research

$2.73 billion to support agricultural research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

This amount includes $405 million for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, a $5 million increase over FY2018. Formula research funding for land-grant universities is maintained at FY2018 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

$1.004 billion for APHIS, $262 million above the budget request and $18.4 million above the FY2018 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 provides investments in the science program for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility and also provides increases to address pre-departure inspections of agriculture imports and tree pests.

Natural Resources Conservation Service

$879.1 million, $5 million above the FY2018 enacted level and $210 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.

Farm Service Agency

$1.625 billion for FSA for various farm, conservation, and emergency loan programs. It prohibits the closure of FSA county offices and provides resources for information technology (IT) improvements and personnel across county offices.

Food Safety and Inspection Service

$1.049 billion, a $7.5 million reduction form the FY2018 enacted level.

The bill fully funds the food safety and inspection programs including $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

$3.8 billion for Rural Development, including additional $825 million in funding dedicated for infrastructure investments in Rural America.

Water & Electric Infrastructure — $1.25 billion for rural water and waste program loans, the same as the FY2018 enacted level; $800 million for water and waste grants and $19 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.

Rural Broadband — $425 million for the rural broadband loan and grant pilot program and $53 million in distance learning and telemedicine grants, of which $20 million is dedicated to assist rural communities combat the opioid epidemic.

Rural Housing Loans and Rental Assistance — $24 billion in loan authority for the Single Family Housing guaranteed loan program, equal to the FY2018 enacted level and the president's request. It includes $1.1 billion for the direct loan program, which provides low-income rural families with home loan assistance.

In addition, $1.331 billion is provided for rental assistance for affordable rental housing for low-income families and the elderly in rural communities for renewal of all 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.

Food and Drug Administration

$2.97 billion in discretionary funding for the FDA, $159 million over the FY2018 enacted level.

Overall, total FDA funding, including user fee revenues, is $5.4 billion, which is $292 million above FY2018. The bill provides $88.5 million for medical product initiatives, including full funding for the Oncology Center of Excellence; $15 million for food safety initiatives; and $59 million for opioid prevention efforts. The bill also provides $70 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 — $6.15 billion in discretionary funding for WIC, which $25 million below the FY2018 enacted level. This amount is based on USDA estimates of WIC enrollments and will not prevent any eligible participants from receiving benefits.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — $73.219 billion in required mandatory spending, which is outside the discretionary funding jurisdiction of the Senate Appropriations Committee, for SNAP. Due to declining enrollment, this is $794 million below last year's level.

Child Nutrition Programs — $23.184 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 30.7 million participants, 74 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-priced meals. In addition, $58 million in discretionary program funds are also included for equipment grants and Summer EBT Demonstration.

International Programs

$1.716 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 $210.255 million and includes $15 million for the Local and Regional Food Aid Procurement at the Foreign Agricultural Service.