NSAC's Blog

House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Advances FY 2019 Funding Bill

May 11, 2018

US Capitol. Credit: USDA

Each year, Congress passes far-reaching funding legislation, known as appropriations legislation, to fund federal programs across the government. This includes many of the programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

On Wednesday, May 9, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee passed its agriculture appropriations bill for fiscal year (FY) 2019. The bill provides funding for food and agriculture programs ranging from food safety and rural development to farm credit and nutrition assistance. It is expected that the full House Appropriations Committee will take up the draft bill sometime mid next week, however, there are still a lot of hurdles appropriators must clear before a final bill can be produced before the current fiscal year expires on September 30.

The Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has not yet released its draft bill or set a date for markup.

Below, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) analyzes the House Subcommittee’s FY 2019 bill and details how programs of relevance for family farmers and the sustainable agriculture community may be affected.

You can also take a look at our appropriations chart, which has been updated to include House Agriculture Appropriations Committee action.

Big Picture

Like last year’s final agriculture appropriations package, the House Subcommittee once again rejected many of the misguided cuts proposed by the Administration in its budget request to Congress. For example, the Subcommittee bill protects funding for farm bill conservation programs and increases funding for conservation planning, despite the President’s proposal to cut both. We are very concerned, however, about several cuts in the House bill that reverse course from a set of much-needed increases provided in FY 2018. We will continue to work with appropriators to address those concerns as the FY 2019 funding cycle progresses. The following sections detail the bill’s funding for:

Conservation and Energy

We were pleased to see that the Subcommittee’s bill includes full funding for farm bill conservation programs; full funding was also provided in the FY 2018 omnibus. As with the FY 2018 bill, this bill makes no cuts to farm bill mandatory spending for the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) or the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), USDA’s premier working lands conservation programs. This is the second year in a row that the House did not include any cuts to these programs in their appropriations packages. The decision to protect working lands conservation programs not only bucks a years-long trend of raiding farm bill funding for conservation programs through the appropriations process, it is also a clear rejection of the President’s FY 2019 efforts to fully eradicate funding for CSP. We thank appropriators for recognizing the importance of CSP, the nation’s largest working lands conservation program (over 70 million acres of working lands are currently engaged in CSP contracts) and the only comprehensive conservation assistance program offered by USDA.

In a further rejection of the President’s attempts to gut conservation programs, the Subcommittee not only preserved – but increased – funding for the Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA), which provides farmers with on-the ground conservation planning support. The House bill proposes $890 million for Conservation Operations, including $790.9 million for CTA. This is an increase of more than $15 million over FY 2018 levels, and a welcome reflection of the importance of on-the-ground conservation planning and program implementation. NSAC commends Subcommittee Chairman Robert Aderholt (R-AL) and members of the Subcommittee for recognizing the critical importance of these programs for America’s family farmers and ranchers.

In addition to conservation programs, federal energy programs also play an important role in the growth and maintenance of sustainable operations. We are pleased that the Subcommittee’s bill does not cut farm bill mandatory funding for the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP); cuts to REAP were included in the House’s proposal last year. REAP provides grants and loans to farmers and businesses for energy efficiency improvements and purchase of wind, solar, or other renewable energy systems. It also provides support for farmers’ energy audits and renewable energy development. In protecting REAP, the Subcommittee is retaining USDA’s primary tool for helping farmers and ranchers reduce energy costs by conserving and producing energy on their land.

Farm Loans

Farm Service Agency (FSA) loan funding levels remained the same as in FY 2018, which we believe is commensurate with the current need. FSA is the lender of first opportunity and last resort for many American farmers, particularly beginning and socially disadvantaged producers. Maintaining support for these programs while the farm economy continues to remain in downturn is a must-do for Congress, and we are pleased to see the House Subcommittee protect this funding.

The Subcommittee’s bill maintains programs levels for Direct Operating Loans at $1.53 billion, Guaranteed Operations loans at $1.96 billion, Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loans at $2.75 billion, and Direct Farm Ownership Loans at $1.5 billion.

For more information on the state of FSA loan programs and NSAC’s recommendations on loan funding and loan limits, please check out our recent blog series.

Rural Development

Overall, the Subcommittee’s draft bill rejects the severe cuts proposed to rural development in the President’s FY 2019 budget request. The bill retains level funding from FY 2018 for the Value-Added Producer Grant program (VAPG), providing $15 million in discretionary funding. NSAC thanks Subcommittee members for supporting a program with such a strong track record of success in creating economic opportunities in rural communities. Just this week in fact, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) released a new report highlighting the critical role that VAPG has played in helping farmers and ranchers grow rural economies. The report, “USDA’s Value-Added Producer Grant Program and Its Effect on Business Survival and Growth,” illustrates the effectiveness of VAPG’s investments in supporting business development and job creation.

We are also pleased that the bill retains $2.75 million in discretionary funding for the Appropriate Technology Transfer for Rural Areas (ATTRA) program, which provides practical, cutting edge information to farmers, extension agents, and others. The funding increase for ATTRA supports, in part, the continued operation of ATTRA’s Armed to Farm program, which helps returning military veterans learn to farm and enter the field of agriculture.

Both VAPG and ATTRA funding levels within the Subcommittee’s draft bill meet NSAC’s requests for FY 2019, and we thank Chairman Aderholt, Ranking Member Sanford Bishop (D-GA), and members of the Subcommittee for recognizing the critical role that these programs play in supporting rural communities, farmers, and businesses across the country.

Research and Food Safety

Unfortunately, when it comes to research and food safety training the Subcommittee’s FY 2019 appropriations bill performs far worse than on other sustainable agriculture issues of note. The single research program that received additional support in the House’s bill was the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). AFRI received a $15 million increase, pushing total funding for the program to $415 million. This is a nearly four percent increase over FY 2018 and an 11 percent increase over the President’s budget request for FY2019..

In contrast to the increase provided for AFRI, the Subcommittee bill takes an axe to funding for USDA’s flagship on-farm research program, the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (SARE). The Subcommittee bill cuts SARE funding by $5 million (14 percent). This level of funding would represent a significant retreat from FY 2018’s record funding level of $35 million. Although SARE is officially authorized to receive $60 million, Congress has yet to give the program this amount. Without additional funding for SARE, success rates for research and education pre-proposals will likely remain below 10 percent.

The Organic Transitions (ORG) research program, which was zeroed out in the President’s FY19 budget request, is provided $4 million, a reduction of $1 million from FY 2018. NSAC has sought a funding level for ORG of $5 million.

Another NSAC priority program, the Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP) is funded at $5 million, $2 million less than provided in FY 2018. NSAC had recommended that the program be funded at $10 million in FY 2019, given the 100,000 farms that could potentially be impacted by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) in the coming year. The current funding level of $7 million is not nearly enough to ensure that small farmers and processors have the training that they need to comply with FSMA. If the funding level provided by the House Subcommittee bill becomes law, farmers will lack the resources that they need and our food safety will suffer as a result.

Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers

NSAC was very pleased that the House retained the $3 million in discretionary funding for the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the “Section 2501 Program”) in the bill. The Section 2501 Program is the only farm bill program dedicated to addressing the specific needs of farmers of color, and was also expanded in the 2014 Farm Bill to serve military veterans. The program supports institutions and nonprofits that provide critical resources, outreach, and technical assistance to serve these historically underserved producers.

The FY 2018 omnibus provided $3 million in discretionary funding for 2501, the first time in at least a decade that the programs had received discretionary funding. In the 2014 Farm Bill, not only were veteran farmers added to the list of producers that the Section 2501 Program is meant to serve, Congress also slashed the program’s budget in half (from $20 million per year in mandatory funding to $10 million per year). The $3 million provided in the Subcommittee’s bill is a small, but much needed investment in this critical program. Section 2501 is also among several “tiny but mighty” programs whose farm bill funding will expire without new mandatory funding being expressly included in the 2018 Farm Bill.

Legislative Riders and the Committee Report

As has been the case in previous years, the House Subcommittee’s FY 2019 bill includes several tacked on policy riders. We expect also, that when the full House Appropriations Committee marks up the bill next week, additional policy riders could emerge as amendments. NSAC will continue to monitor and track any relevant developments.

Additionally, the bill’s accompanying report, which has not yet been released, will contain further directives and recommendations to the Administration. Report language is non-binding, though Administrations due take seriously the language therein.

Next Steps

Now that the House’s agriculture appropriators have passed their draft out of subcommittee, the bill’s next stop will be the full House Appropriations Committee. There hasn’t yet been a date scheduled for that mark up, but we expect it will occur next week.

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

Summertime portends to be a very significant time for decisions related to funding, as both the House and Senate debate spending bills and potentially contend with a rescissions package in the coming months. At the same time, Congress will be debating farm bill policy and spending levels, which is a separate process led by a separate set of committees. If the House Appropriations Committee passes the Subcommittee’s FY 2019 spending bill, and the Senate Subcommittee and full Committee similarly pass their version of the bill, then both bills could head to the full House and Senate for consideration before being conferenced, passed, and signed by the President, all before the September 30 deadline. A far more likely outcome, however, is that the agriculture appropriations measure gets lumped with other appropriations bills into a larger, single appropriations package.

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.

Stay tuned for our updated agriculture appropriations chart for a full breakdown of the bill.

Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Budget and Appropriations, Conservation, Energy & Environment, Food Safety, Grants and Programs, Local & Regional Food Systems, Research, Education & Extension, Rural Development

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