March 30, 2015
On Friday, March 27, 29 Senators delivered a letter to the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee urging them to oppose cuts to conservation programs in fiscal year (FY) 2016 appropriations legislation. Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) led the letter. Among the many other signers was Senate Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).
The letter was delivered as the Subcommittee is considering the President’s FY 2016 Budget Request, funding requests from individual members of Congress, and external funding testimony submitted by non-governmental organizations and individuals. NSAC submitted external testimony last week.
“As your Subcommittee considers the FY 2016 appropriations bill, we urge you to support full and mandatory funding for farm bill conservation programs,” the Senators’ letter begins.
Nearly all 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, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as 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.
“The 2014 Farm Bill prioritized conservation investments, all while saving taxpayers billions of dollars by reforming and consolidating programs. . . . Farm Bill conservation programs help farmers and ranchers care for our land and water while they provide food, fuel, and fiber for the country. For example, through the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), producers receive financial and technical assistance to conserve and enhance natural resources on their lands. These programs are increasingly important to the long-term economic viability of family farms as producers face agricultural and environmental challenges — including droughts, wildfires, and floods.”
We commend Senators Coons and Bennet and the other 27 Senators who joined the letter for voicing their strong support for America’s farmers, ranchers, and foresters and the natural resources upon which they depend.
Also on Friday, eight Kansas organizations, including the Kansas Rural Center, Kansas Farmers Union, and Kansas Grazing Lands Coalition delivered a similar letter to Subcommittee Chairman Jerry Moran (R-KS), urging the Chairman to “oppose cuts to mandatory funding for Farm Bill agricultural conservation programs in FY 2016 appropriations legislation.”
As the FY 2016 appropriations process progresses, we will continue to monitor, report on, and urge against cuts to mandatory conservation spending.