NSAC's Blog

House Agriculture FY 2019 Appropriations Bill Advances

May 18, 2018

US Capitol. Credit: USDA

This week has been a perfect embodiment of the popular expression, “when it rains, it pours.” Not only has the House – and the sustainable agriculture advocacy community – been busy trying to finalize and pass their version of the 2018 Farm Bill (the bill failed 198-213), they’ve had their hands full with fiscal year (FY) 2019 appropriations work.

On May 16, 2018, the House Appropriations Committee advanced their agriculture appropriations funding bill for FY 2019, which was originally drafted by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee and marked up by the Subcommittee last week. While it doesn’t receive as much attention as legislative efforts like the farm bill, appropriations plays a major role in shaping our food and farm systems. The agriculture appropriations bill, funds many of the major programs and functions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the Commodity Future Trading Commission (CFTC), and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

The bill, which was passed out of the House Appropriations Committee on a vote of 31-20, includes $23.273 billion in discretionary funding – $14 million above the level funded in the FY 2018 omnibus.

Both FY 2018 and 2019 are operating under the budget deal passed earlier this year, which lifted the caps on defense and non-defense discretionary spending and set the top-level parameters within which Congress can fund particular programs. By raising the discretionary funding caps for two years, Congress has made the job of finalizing appropriations legislation for these two fiscal years much easier.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) secured several important wins in the FY 2018 omnibus, and the coalition is actively working to build upon those victories in the FY 2019 omnibus. The unusual appropriations process being undertaken by the House, however, has left many wondering if a full spending bill will get across the finish line before September 30 (when FY 2018 funding expires). As was noted multiple times throughout the markup, the House has chosen to move forward with individual appropriations bills prior to releasing the allocation levels for each individual bill.

To see a full breakdown of the House Agriculture Appropriation Subcommittee’s original bill, see our previous blog post; most of the bill remains unchanged from the original.

Prior to this week’s markup, the Committee released the bill’s accompanying report, which includes several funding levels as well as policy recommendations regarding the implementation of included programs.

Below, we highlight relevant proposals included in the Committee’s report. We have also published our updated FY 2019 appropriations chart.

The Managers’ Amendment – Organic Transitions Research

During the legislating process, the “manager” of a bill (in this case Subcommittee Chairman Aderholt (R-AL)) has the option to make changes after introduction but ahead of consideration of that bill. Those changes are typically packaged into what is known as a “Manager’s Amendment.”

Thanks to the work of Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME), the Manager’s Amendment in the FY 2019 agriculture appropriations bill includes an increase to the Organic Transitions (ORG) – increasing support for the program from $4 million to $5 million, a continuation of the FY 2018 funding level. ORG helps to fuel the continued growth of organic agriculture by investing into crucial research on organic production methods, including the transition from conventional to organic farming. We applaud Congresswoman Pingree for her leadership on this issue, and are glad that the Committee strongly rejected the President’s proposal to zero out this important program.

In addition to the increase in ORG funding, the Manager’s Amendment also made modifications to several other funding levels, as well as adjustments to language included in the report.

Healthy Food Financing Initiative and Other Amendments

Representative Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered an amendment to increase funding for the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI). HFFI provides support to increase the availability of healthy foods in low to moderate-income communities (rural, urban, and suburban) through the creation and expansion of healthy food retail outlets, such as grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and co-operatives.

The Subcommittee’s bill funded HFFI at $1 million for FY 2019, which was the same level funded in the FY 2018 omnibus. The adoption of Representative Lee’s amendment would increase funding for HFFI from $1 million to $2 million for FY 2019. Ranking Member Sanford Bishop (D-GA) spoke to the importance of HFFI during the Subcommittee’s appropriations debates, pointing out HFFI’s key role in helping in-need families across the country to access fresh, healthy food. We are pleased that Chairman Aderholt withdrew his initial opposition and that the amendment was adopted. 

Amendments on e-cigarettes, horse slaughter, farm labor, potatoes as vegetables in school lunches, bioengineered salmon, and more were also part of the Committee debate.

Takeaways from the Committee Report

The Committee report, which was released the day before the full bill markup, specifies certain funding levels and contains important directions about how to implement the Committee’s objectives. Among the directives included in the report, NSAC is pleased that the Committee included the following language provisions:

  • Clarification that when organizations operate or manage multiple farmers markets, they are able to use the same Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) equipment at multiple different locations to accept SNAP and WIC benefits. There has been a lack of clarity regarding this option in the past, which has resulted in inefficiencies and added costs to many farmers markets. We applaud the Committee for including this language within the report.
  • USDA directed to report on foreign land ownership. This is an important step to addressing the huge challenge of land access that exists in this country, because it will quantify the scale of foreign ownership and the degree to which speculation is exacerbating American farmers’ inability to access farmland. American farmers, particularly beginning farmers and socially disadvantaged farmers, also face barriers to accessing quality farmland due to land and rent increases facilitated by federal subsidy programs, suburban development, and the lack of programs or policies to support non-familial intergenerational land transfer.

Next Steps

Now that the House Appropriations Committee has passed their draft bill, it then goes on to the House floor for consideration by the full chamber. It is still not clear, however, what the timeline and process will be for moving individual appropriations bills to the floor.

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, followed by the full Appropriations Committee, is set to debate and vote on the Senate’s agriculture appropriations bill next week. Once that happens, negotiations will move forward between agriculture appropriators in the House and Senate. NSAC is actively urging Senate appropriators to address funding levels that fell short in the House bill, and working for further improvements as the process moves forward.

If the Senate Appropriations Committee also passes their agriculture spending bill next week, then both bills could head to the full House and Senate floors for conferencing shortly thereafter. Once a conferenced bill is passed, it goes to the President to sign. At the current pace, it is possible that we may have a final FY 2019 agriculture appropriations bill before the September 30 deadline. A far more likely outcome, however, is that instead of being passed on its own, the agriculture appropriations measure will get lumped with other appropriations bills into a larger, omnibus appropriations package.

Another important item to watch regarding agricultural spending is the rescissions package proposed by the Administration, which has not yet been taken up by the House or Senate. This package would make significant cuts to key conservation and rural development programs that are vital to supporting rural communities and protecting natural resources across the country. We thank Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Ranking Member Bishop for pointing out the contradiction in the statement by House majority members that they would support programs in the appropriations bills, but also that they then might be willing to come back and cut the critical funding they just provided by supporting the rescissions package. We hope they will see the folly of such an approach and remove the farm conservation and rural economic development items from the rescissions package.

For a full breakdown of the current funding situation, download our updated annual appropriations chart here. 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: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Commodity, Crop Insurance & Credit Programs, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Food Safety, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Nutrition & Food Access, Organic, Research, Education & Extension, Rural Development

One response to “House Agriculture FY 2019 Appropriations Bill Advances”

  1. […] may slow down as House and Senate leadership take over from the usually congenial Committees.  The House Appropriations Committee passed its version of the FY 2019 Appropriations bill last week that had a slightly higher overall […]