Vilsack, groups criticize House ag approps bill

The fiscal year 2024 agriculture appropriations bill that the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will consider today, May 18, is already subject to criticism from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and groups affected by cuts the Republicans who control the House and its committees have made in the bill.
In a statement issued Wednesday evening, Vilsack said, “Today, House Republicans proposed stark cuts to USDA’s programs, and in some cases whole offices, in a way they know would only harm America’s economy and communities. The proposal is pathetic, it is punitive, and it is petty.
“I’m convinced Roman Roy from ‘Succession’ must have had a hand in writing this unrealistic, hurtful bill. How else do you explain a policy that would take food assistance away from women, children, and vulnerable seniors, including veterans and people with health conditions that make it difficult for them to consistently work? How do you explain allowing hardworking farmers to go into foreclosure, right as we’re coming out of the pandemic and just recovering from the myriad associated challenges they’ve faced? And how do you explain blocking our ability to hire staff needed to implement conservation programs producers are asking to put in place on their farms? These are just a few of too many questions the bill raises.
“While these individuals continue to posture and put forth non-serious proposals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is charging ahead implementing policies and making investments that America’s farmers, rural communities, and families have been promised and are counting on to continue to rebuild from the pandemic, natural disasters and other challenges outside of their control. It is hard to see the logic in undermining such goals. People deserve better, and USDA remains committed to improving the livelihoods, health and economic opportunity for all Americans.”
The National WIC Association (NWA) said the bill, “if passed, would significantly undermine the vital support provided by the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children.”NWA said, “The proposed bill, which allocates $6 billion in funding — a staggering $800 million less than President Biden’s proposed budget — demonstrates a disregard for the health and well-being of our nation’s women and children. Most notably, the cuts would gut fruit and vegetable benefits by nearly 62%, dramatically decreasing access to nutritious foods for nearly 5 million women and kids enrolled in the program.”
NWA President and CEO Jamila Taylor said, “Currently, the WIC program provides children with a cash value benefit (CVB) of $25 for fruits and vegetables, which is essential for nourishing their growing bodies and promoting healthy development. If this budget bill is passed, this amount would be reduced to a meager $11, depriving children of the support they deserve. Furthermore, pregnant and postpartum women would see their benefits reduced from $44 to a mere $13, while breastfeeding women would face a reduction from $49 to just $15. Such severe cuts put the health of mothers and their infants at great risk and jeopardize their long-term well-being.
“In addition to these distressing reductions in benefits, the inclusion of an unfunded dairy rider in the proposed budget bill is deeply concerning,” Taylor continued. “This rider not only undermines the science-based process behind the formulation of the food package rule but also dismantles the progress made in ensuring the nutritional adequacy of WIC benefits. Similarly, this unfunded rider would jeopardize access to other scientifically recommended foods, amounting to another benefit cut for children and women participating in the program. This bill’s funding cuts are also paired with a cruel attempt to impose time limits on SNAP participation for certain adults, threatening to push more people into poverty and leave more households without access to the food they need.
“NWA urges members of the House of Representatives to reconsider this ill-conceived bill and to prioritize the health and wellness of vulnerable populations. We call on lawmakers to provide the $6.3 billion in funding needed to serve WIC’s projected increased caseload with the fruit and vegetable benefit left intact, ensuring that the most vulnerable among us are not left without the critical support they rely on.”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said it “is deeply disappointed” by the bill.
NSAC Policy Director Mike Lavender said, “There is no surer way to undermine the success of farmers, ranchers, rural communities, and our shared food system than through the proposals included in this bill. Cuts to research, technical assistance, and market opportunities will effectively strand farmers. And the clear intention to dismantle the department’s equity initiatives would subvert recent efforts to address long-standing systemic, institutional racism. In its current form, this bill represents a consequential step backward for market access, fair competition, climate resilience, equity, and food security.”
Farm Action President Joe Maxwell said the bill includes “a harmful provision to prevent USDA from writing, preparing, or publishing proposed rules.
“The rules in question, called for in the Biden administration’s Executive Order on Competition, are meant to strengthen the Packers and Stockyards Act, a landmark law intended to protect farmers and ranchers from abusive and anti-competitive behavior.
“We are disappointed that Republican House Appropriators caved to the corporate meatpacking lobby and effectively sold out America’s farmers and ranchers. We urge the House Appropriations Committee to reconsider this provision,” Maxwell said.
“This is not the first time lawmakers have sided with corporate monopolies regarding marketplace protections,” he added. “In 2011, a prohibition against similar rulemaking known as the GIPSA Rider caught national attention.
“For years, the meatpacking industry repeatedly, successfully lobbied to add the GIPSA Rider to the appropriations bill, unnecessarily dragging out the rulemaking process. In 2015, this fight was highlighted by comedian John Oliver in a widely watched segment of his HBO program. That year, the GIPSA Rider ultimately did not pass, but attacks on Packers and Stockyards Act rules have continued.”We beat the meatpackers back in 2015, and we won’t stop until we do it again.”
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