NSAC's Blog

Welcome Back, Congress: FY 2019 Appropriations Update

May 7, 2018

Kentucky Farmer Will Bowling with NSAC staff on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC.

Kentucky Farmer Will Bowling with NSAC staff on Capitol Hill. Photo credit: NSAC.

For weeks, all eyes have been on the congressional agriculture committees as debate of the 2018 Farm Bill has steadily ramped up. This week, however, our attention turns to the appropriations committees and the upcoming fiscal year (FY) 2019 spending bills. Members of both chambers have just returned from a week-long congressional recess, and the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee is already promising to deliver a draft bill later this week.

While the farm bill is the “authorizing” legislation that sets the rules of the road for agriculture and food programs and policies (as well as mandatory funding levels) for five years at a time, appropriations bills are passed annually in order to fund programs that operate with discretionary spending.

On September 30, 2018, the current fiscal year (FY 2018) will come to an end – as will the 2014 Farm Bill’s programs and policies. Without a new appropriation bill in place for the coming fiscal year (FY 2019), many crucial U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs would cease to function and we could face a potential a government shutdown. Given that this is also an election and farm bill year, Congress will be more hard-pressed than ever to avoid a shutdown and try to get a final bill passed on time.

With both the 2014 Farm Bill and FY 2018 discretionary funding set to expire on September 30, there’s a whole lot at stake for food and agriculture programs as Congress returns to work this week with less than six months left in the current fiscal year. Below we provide an update on where we are in the FY 2019 appropriations process, and also identify some opportunities for sustainable food and farm advocates to advance their FY 2019 funding priorities.

FY 2019 Progress Check

The appropriations process for each fiscal year begins with the release of the President’s budget proposal. The president released his FY 2019 proposal in February 2018, a proposal that was so out of touch with the needs of American farmers and families that it was universally panned by both Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Following the release of the President’s Budget, the House and Senate Appropriations Committees hold hearings with the Secretary of Agriculture and the Administrator of the Food and Drug Administration and ask them to justify the President’s requests. Hearings with both Administration leaders have been held in the last few weeks, and while there were few revolutionary moments, many Members of Congress did express significant concern over the President’s proposed budget cuts.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) works nearly year-round on appropriations – in advance of the passage of bills we work to ensure that Congress understands the needs of family farmers, and following the passage of appropriations bills our team produces in-depth analyses on the potential impact of funding decisions. Earlier this year, NSAC released our FY 2019 appropriations priorities, and in March 2018 we also brought a group of farmers and farmer advocates to Washington D.C. to speak directly to Congress about their needs and priorities.

The final funding bill for FY 2018 was not passed until earlier this spring, a full six months behind schedule. Because of this extraordinarily long delay, Congress now has a much more compressed schedule within which to complete the FY 2019 bill. On a positive note, however, the FY 2018 Omnibus appropriations bill included several important wins for sustainable agriculture that could potentially carry over into the FY 2019 bill.

Thanks to a budget deal that was agreed to in March, top line spending levels for both FY 2018 and FY 2019 were increased beyond the levels set for previous deals. This negotiation was important, because under existing laws funding for food, agriculture, and many other important sectors would have been restricted. Under the March budget deal, domestic discretionary spending was increased by $63 billion in FY 2018 and $68 billion in FY 2019. While it is likely that most of the additional $5 billion available for FY 2019 will go into defense accounts, the progress made in FY 2018 significantly relieved pressure on many sustainable agriculture priorities for FY 2019.

Congress is now moving quickly to the write their FY 2019 appropriations bills so that they can meet the compressed deadlines this year, utilize the extra money from the March budget deal, and avoid any messy appropriations fights in an important election year.

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has scheduled a markup of its draft FY 2019 appropriations bill for later this week, on Wednesday, May 9. It is expected that the text of the bill will be released this week, likely no more than 24 hours prior to the markup of the bill. This is a particularly rushed timeline given that the House Subcommittee is moving ahead with its draft bill before the announcement of each bill’s funding allocation has been made. Allocations are usually announced after the House and Senate have each passed a budget, and those allocations are used to set the top line spending levels. It is unlikely that Congress will pass a new budget this year, however, given the implications of the March 2018 negotiated deal.

We expect that the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will announce a markup for their appropriations bill shortly.

Opportunities for Sustainable Agriculture

While things can change dramatically from year to year, the previous year’s appropriations bill typically has a significant impact on what is done the following year. Thankfully, for FY 2018 sustainable agriculture advocates like NSAC were able to help secure a FY 2018 omnibus bill with several major wins for family farmers and rural communities. In the table below you can see a breakdown of what was secured in FY 2018, and what NSAC recommends to Congress in FY 2019.

Program FY 2018 Omnibus

(increase from FY2017)

FY 2019 Recommendation
Farm Service Agency Loans Level funding Level Funding
Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers Program $3 million ($3 million) $10 million
Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program $35 million ($8 million) $40 million
Food Safety Outreach Program $7 million ($2 million) $10 million
Value Added Producer Grants $15 million $15 million
Farm Bill Conservation Programs No cuts to mandatory conservation program spending No cuts to mandatory conservation program spending

Given the progress made in FY 2018, we have a solid base from which to build upon for FY 2019, and NSAC will be one of many organizations fighting hard to make sure that sustainable family farmers and food producing communities are supported. For a more detailed analysis of how sustainable agriculture fared in FY 2018, download NSAC’s updated FY 2018 Appropriations Chart.

The Threat of a Rescission Package

Because of the Administration’s frustration and dissatisfaction with the FY 2018 spending package approved by Congress, the President has recently revealed that a little-used and lesser-understood budgetary maneuver known as a rescission is likely to be introduced this week. A rescission is a request to claw back funds that were previously appropriated by Congress so long as they have not yet been used by the particular agencies to which they were appointed. While the use of a rescission by the President is relatively rare, Congress regularly does rescission packages within annual supplemental appropriations as a way to balance the books without the President’s input.

The exact amount of the President’s requested rescission has vacillated wildly over the last few weeks as the Administration negotiated with members of Congress. Initially the President threatened to go after $60 billion in unused funds, though now the White House is reporting that it will put forward a package requesting $15 billion in rescissions in the coming days. If the President does send the rescissions package to Congress, special rules will be trigged that allow for expedited consideration of the request. The most important of these special rules is that approval of the package would not require a 60-vote super majority in the Senate. Additionally, the President can impound the funding for 45 days to allow Congress more time to act.

Currently, there seems to be significant pushback at the idea of an Administrative rescissions package from congressional appropriators. Given this level of resistance, it is unclear whether Congress will even take up the package for consideration.

What to Watch

Expect significant activity in the months ahead when it comes to action on sustainable agriculture funding priorities as both the House and Senate debate spending bills and potentially contend with a rescissions package. Given the truncated timeline caused by delayed passage of the FY 2018 omnibus bill and the looming midterm primaries and elections, we also recommend watching for talks of a Continuing Resolution, which would be necessary to keep the government funded past the September 30 deadline if no bill is passed.

As these and other dramas play out on Capitol Hill, NSAC will continue to provide timely and in-depth updates on our blog and via social media.

Categories: Budget and Appropriations

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