September 7, 2018
Congress has less than 10 legislative days left to fund the government for fiscal year (FY) 2019 in order to avoid a shutdown. In order to keep the government running, congressional appropriators are working overtime to negotiate the differences between House and Senate spending bills before September 30 (when the current fiscal year’s funding expires). If agreement on a final spending package cannot be reached in time, appropriators can also opt for a continuing resolution (CR), which would temporarily extend the current fiscal year’s spending levels. With a great deal at stake for the sustainable agriculture community – the annual appropriators process sets the funding levels for several critical programs that matter for sustainable agriculture research, food safety, rural development, conservation, and credit – farmers and other stakeholders will want to keep a close eye on how negotiations are progressing.
With the 2014 Farm Bill also set to expire on September 30, it’s an especially busy time on Capitol Hill right now. As appropriators hash out the differences between House and Senate spending bills, the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee is simultaneously working to negotiate the differences between the chambers’ draft farm bills. Earlier this week, the Conference Committee held their first meeting to discuss farm bill priorities and explore avenues for moving forward on a conferenced bill. Both the remainder of the farm bill Committee’s work and the final negotiations on the ag appropriations package are likely to be completed behind closed doors.
Though the farm bill is the issue front and center on most ag-vocate’s minds, the appropriations process mustn’t be forgotten. An overview of appropriators’ progress on a final FY 2019 spending bill, as well as details on the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)’s food and agriculture priorities, are outlined below.
Yesterday, House and Senate Appropriations Committees named their conferees for next “minibus” – a group of appropriations bills that are negotiated together. Despite the fact that only the Senate has thus far passed its Agriculture Appropriations bill through the full chamber (the House passed its agriculture spending through the full Appropriations Committee, but has not yet brought it to the floor), Congress’ third minibus (H.R. 6157) will include Agriculture.
The conferees for this minibus include several members of the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees, including the chair and ranking members of both Subcommittees:
In order to meet the September 30 deadline, the minibus Conference Committee will need to meet within the next week to work out the differences between the bills before them: Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies; Financial Services and General Government; Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies, and Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies. Once the Committee agrees on a final spending package, they’ll need to pass the conferenced minibus on both House and Senate floors and have it signed by the President. Congress is rapidly racing to pass as many spending bills as possible before the end of the month; any that are not completed will require a CR that extends FY 2018 funding levels.
NSAC engages on behalf of and alongside our member organizations to advocate for sustainable agriculture priorities throughout the annual appropriations process each year. Detailed analyses are available on our blog for how our priorities fared in the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations bills. We also recently submitted our conference recommendations to appropriators on the minibus Conference Committee.
For several of our priorities, the House and Senate bill include the same funding level. We are pleased, for instance, that both bills provide level funding and met the NSAC request of $15 million in discretionary funding for the Value Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program. We are urging appropriators to include this funding level in a final bill. Additionally, both bills provide $3 million in discretionary funding for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers (2501 program); NSAC is advocating for the inclusion of at least that level in a final bill.
The Senate funding level is higher than the House’s for a few key sustainable agriculture programs, including the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program and the Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP). NSAC encourages appropriators to adopt the Senate’s funding levels for these programs.
We are also pleased both bills protect critical working lands programs by not allowing backdoor cuts to be made to program funding through the appropriations process. On one conservation priority, the Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) program, the House includes a higher FY 2019 funding level than the Senate. Given how critical technical assistance is to the implementation of all farm bill conservation programs, NSAC recommends that the Committee adopt the House’s higher funding level in a final bill.
NSAC has also submitted FY 2019 conference recommendations regarding the Administration’s recent proposal to move the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and the Economic Research Service (ERS) out of the capital region. Numerous stakeholders within the agricultural and economic research fields, including NSAC, have serious concerns regarding the proposed relocation of the agencies. Our conference recommendations urge appropriators to ensure that any funding used for the relocation of NIFA be used to keep the agency within the National Capital Region. We have also advised that the Committee prohibit any funding from going toward the physical relocation of ERS, or any efforts to move it out of the Research, Education, and Extension (REE) mission area at USDA.
NSAC will continue to monitor and report on the appropriations process as Congress races toward the September 30 deadline. It’s going to be a busy next couple of weeks for food and agriculture priorities over the next several weeks – stay tuned for updates as these processes move forward!
Categories: Budget and Appropriations