April 7, 2014
On Friday, April 4, 26 Senators delivered a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees urging them to oppose cuts to conservation programs in fiscal year (FY) 2015 appropriations legislation. Senator Chris Coon (D-DE) led the letter. Among the many other signers were Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and former Chairs Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Pat Leahy (D-VT).
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.
“As the subcommittee considers the FY 2015 appropriations bill, we urge you to support the mandatory funding authorized for conservation programs in the 2014 farm bill,” the letter begins.
Nearly all of the conservation program funding authorized in the farm bill is direct funding, also known as mandatory funding, which means that the money is provided and spent according to the authorizing bill, in this case the farm bill. Commodity subsides, food stamps, and conservation programs are all examples of mandatory spending in the farm bill.
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 appropriators have been known to cut mandatory spending in order to free up additional dollars for them to spend on discretionary programs.
“Conservation programs offer crucial tools that support voluntary, cooperative efforts to protect water quality, conserve soil, enhance wildlife habitat, and protect land,” the Senators write. “These programs not only conserve our nation’s natural resources, they also sustain our hunting and fishing traditions, and help keep America’s working lands in the hands of farm families for generations to come.”
“Private land comprises nearly seventy percent of the land in the U.S., and conservation programs help farmers and ranchers achieve their goals to be good stewards of that land. They also help defray the costs of meeting environmental standards and regulations. As our nation faces increasing agricultural and environmental challenges, in the forms of prolonged droughts, increasing wildfires, devastating floods, and weather variability, 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.”
NSAC and 28 national organizations delivered the same message to appropriators earlier this week. We commend Senator Coons and the other 25 Senators who joined the letter for their voicing their strong support for America’s farmers, ranchers, and the natural resources upon which they depend.
As the FY 2015 appropriations process progresses, we will continue to monitor, report on, and urge against cuts to mandatory conservation spending.