April 4, 2014
On Thursday, April 3, NSAC and 28 other national organizations delivered a letter to members of the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees urging them to oppose cuts to conservation programs in fiscal year (FY) 2015 appropriations legislation.
The letter was delivered as the Subcommittees are considering the President’s FY 2015 Budget Request, funding requests from individual members of Congress, and external funding testimony submitted by non-governmental organizations and individuals. NSAC submitted external testimony earlier this week.
“The undersigned organizations, representing millions of people across the country, urge you to oppose cuts to mandatory Farm Bill agricultural conservation programs in FY 2015 appropriations legislation,” the letter begins. “After several years of negotiations, Congress recently passed the Agriculture Act of 2014 with broad bipartisan support. This recently passed Farm Bill renewed a suite of extremely popular and effective conservation programs, but reduced mandatory funding by $4 billion. It is critical that Congress ensure that all of direct spending on conservation programs, as provided by the authorizing committees in the Farm Bill, can be spent as Congress intended in FY 2015.”
Nearly all of the conservation funding authorized in the Farm Bill is direct, or “mandatory,” funding, which means that the funding comes automatically and directly from the Treasury. Appropriators typically deal with annual discretionary funding, as opposed to mandatory funding. However, there is a backdoor mechanism—called Changes in Mandatory Program Spending (CHIMPS)—by which appropriations legislation can cut mandatory spending in order to free up additional dollars for them to spend on discretionary programs.
The letter notes that “since 2008, mandatory conservation program funding has been cut by nearly $3.2 billion through CHIMPS in appropriations bills. Nearly 80 percent of all CHIMPS made to Farm Bill programs since 2007 have targeted conservation programs[…] These reductions come on top of more than $2 billion in sequestration cuts. In FY 2015 alone, sequestration cuts to mandatory conservation programs will amount to more than $265 million.”
Between the cuts made to conservation programs by the 2014 Farm Bill and the cuts that will be applied automatically through what is known as sequestration, new enrollments in conservation programs will decline by millions of acres in FY 2015. Farmers, ranchers, and the American public cannot afford additional cuts to these critical programs.
“With increased pressures on working lands to produce food, fuel, and fiber for our nation and the world, Farm Bill conservation programs are needed now more than ever,” the letter continues. “They deliver demonstrated environmental benefits, including clean air and water and abundant wildlife habitat. They protect soil and farmland to provide lasting food security. And they bring important money and jobs to rural areas. Failure to support our farmers, ranchers, foresters, and natural resource base today will jeopardize our agricultural industry tomorrow; driving up long term costs for environmental mitigation, and threatening our nation’s food security.”
Senators Also Write in Support of Conservation Funding
On Friday, April 4, 26 U.S. Senators, led by Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), also wrote a Senate Dear Colleague Letter to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee urging no reductions to 2014 Farm Bill conservation program funding levels. The letter, signed by the current Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and by former Agriculture Committee Chairs Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) among many others, notes that our nation faces increasing agricultural and environmental challenges for which “conservation programs will continue to serve as vital tools to help us address those challenges, while protecting the long-term economic viability of family farms across the country.”
As the FY 2015 appropriations process progresses, we will continue to monitor, report on, and urge against cuts to mandatory conservation spending.