March 16, 2017
President Trump’s budget proposal, issued early Thursday morning, calls for draconian cuts to food and agricultural programs on a historically unprecedented scale. Adoption of the “skinny” budget – so called because it is just a few brief pages of bullet points, rather than the traditionally detailed budget proposal put forth by the President – would result in massive layoffs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and dramatic reductions in federal investments in agricultural research, rural job growth and infrastructure, and farm loans and conservation.
Luckily, it is unlikely that Congress will go along with much of what the President is proposing. The President has put Congress in a difficult position, however, one that they may have a hard time fighting back from. By throwing so many egregious proposals and program cuts their way, the President may be able to force Congress to pick and choose their battles. Some political horse trading will certainly take place in this process, and those who make the least noise may find that they (and their constituents) end up holding the short straw.
Each year, the process for funding federal programs, including those administered by the USDA and Food and Drug Administration (FDA), begins with the President releasing their budget requests. Congress then looks at the President’s requests and decides which to incorporate into their own proposals and which to buck. When it comes to food and agriculture, it is the House and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees that assess the President’s budget requests and draft funding legislation for USDA and FDA.
On Thursday, March 16, President Trump released, his inaugural budget request for fiscal year (FY) 2018 –a rather skimpy bullet point form, as opposed to the detailed budget proposals typical issued by the President. The request includes the deepest cuts to USDA programs ever proposed. Excluding the handful of programs which, according to the bullet points will be held harmless, the total impact of the cuts to programs funded through the agriculture appropriations process would be just north of 50 percent – an astounding and totally impractical recommendation.
While the proposal makes for good media fodder and no doubt pleases a certain portion of the President’s base, we expect that much of it will be dead on arrival as the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees consider the practical implications and impacts of the proposed cuts.
Several major programs funded through the agriculture appropriations process are left intact at current levels in the Trump proposal, including: the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); the entire Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS); and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). From what we can tell, other major programs (e.g., Rural Housing Service (RHS) programs and FDA’s Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)) would also be free of any major reductions.
Rural development programs, however, would take the deepest cuts since their inception under the President’s inaugural budget request. The budget proposes to completely eliminate discretionary funding for rural business programs, including: the Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG) program, Rural Business Development Grants (RBDG) program, Rural Cooperative Development Grants (RCDG), Business and Industry Loan Guarantee Program (B&I), Community Facilities Grants and Loans, and Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) program. In attempting to gut these programs the President is essentially destroying USDA’s ability to invest in rural communities and economies. Despite what Trump’s Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has suggested in subsequent statements about the proposed budget, many of the programs that would be cut – including rural development programs – have a proven track record of success. Rural development programs have been a historic success, both in terms of business survivability rates and job creation, they are exactly the type of programs that should be prioritized for increases, not cuts, during the FY 2018 funding cycle.
In addition to targeting rural business and cooperative programs, the budget proposes to eliminate the rural water and wastewater management programs that address one of rural America’s biggest infrastructure problems. It also proposes to privatize conservation planning and conservation technical assistance, which is currently administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). While NRCS has a long history of partnering with non-governmental entities to help deliver conservation services, private sector engagement in the area of conservation planning is very limited and could not possibly fill the gap if funding were cut significantly. Among other things, this proposal would greatly reduce farmers’ ability to access the farm bill conservation programs, since the staffing needed to deliver the programs would be decimated.
Accounting for the programs that are being left intact as well as the programs that are being zeroed out, USDA would be left with roughly 50 percent of its current budget for all other discretionary programs funded through the annual agricultural appropriations bill. This means a proposed 50 percent cut to most agricultural research programs, farmer outreach and extension programs, agricultural marketing and farm credit programs, enforcement of grain standards and livestock competition rules, international food aid, and the many smaller nutrition programs that receive annual appropriations. It would also mean a dramatic cut in USDA staff and the most significant loss of resources for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities in decades.
As mentioned above, the President’s budget request is just the first step in the FY 2018 funding process. Moreover, the specific details of his FY 2018 budget request are still unknown. The request release today is a very bare bones version of a much more detailed request that will be released later this spring, rumored to likely appear sometime in May, well past the normal timing for the budget request to get to Congress. At that point, congressional appropriators will take the budget request into consideration – along with the hundreds and possibly thousands of additional proposals they receive from members of Congress and stakeholders – and will draft the actual USDA funding bills for FY 2018.
Beginning now, and throughout this process, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), will work very closely with Congress to ensure that critical rural development, sustainable agriculture research, conservation, outreach and technical assistance, and loan programs receive robust funding during the upcoming appropriations cycle.
Categories: Budget and Appropriations