Agriculture in Politics: Ag-FDA Appropriations Bill

June 26, 2023

The Senate will have a test run for the farm bill with the upcoming vote on the Ag-FDA appropriations spending bill as soon as July. The bill provides an opportunity for senators to propose amendments, potentially related to farm bill programs. Lawmakers will closely observe these amendments during the appropriations process as a precursor to the farm bill vote later in the year. Senate Agriculture Committee leaders will use this information to prepare and address amendments that may pose a threat to the farm bill's progress. Amendments, especially regarding crop insurance, can present challenges for farm bill leaders as opponents seek to weaken overall support for the legislation. Liberal and conservative lawmakers have differing opinions on crop insurance subsidies, with liberals criticizing benefits to successful farms and conservatives questioning taxpayer-funded income guarantees for farmers.

The Senate has unanimously approved a bill to fund the USDA and FDA through fiscal year 2024, setting the stage for a spending showdown with the House. The Senate bill, supported by both Democrats and Republicans, aligns with President Joe Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy's debt limit deal and fully funds most programs. In contrast, the House GOP passed a partisan spending bill that cuts spending by approximately $8 billion, targeting nutrition programs and eliminating several Democratic priorities.

Key points from the appropriations comparison include:

- The Senate bill funds the agencies at $26 billion, while the House bill funds them at $17.8 billion.

- The Senate bill allocates $6.3 billion to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), whereas the House bill provides $6 billion and rescinds $500 million in unobligated balances.

- The Senate bill increases WIC fruit and vegetable cash vouchers based on recommendations from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine. The House bill reduces the vouchers by half.

- The Senate bill allocates $98 million to USDA's ReConnect broadband program, while the House bill provides higher funding at $260 million.

- The Senate bill includes fewer rescissions compared to the House bill, which makes significant cuts to clean energy programs, equity programs, and various USDA programs.

Notable Senate amendments include requirements for USDA to reimburse flavored milk in school meal programs and exemptions for certain foods from proposed sodium limits, such as sodium used for food safety or in cheese production.

Senator John Fetterman and Democrats on the Senate Agriculture Committee's nutrition subpanel have sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), expressing concerns about the changes to eligibility and work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) resulting from the debt limit deal. They are seeking detailed information on how these changes will impact the SNAP population. Specifically, they are requesting information on the net change to the SNAP population, state-level changes, demographic breakdowns by race, ethnicity, gender, and age, as well as USDA's strategy for communicating the new eligibility changes to affected participants.

The debt limit deal increased work requirements for SNAP recipients and created new exemptions for homeless individuals, veterans, and youth aging out of foster care. The lawmakers are pressuring USDA to swiftly enact the new exemptions. USDA's response to Fetterman's letter will provide insights into how the agency plans to implement the new work requirements and will offer official demographic data on the impact of these requirements on recipients.

In another development, Senators Chris Coons and Roger Wicker are working on a bipartisan bill to help farmers deal with outbreaks of avian flu. The bill aims to expand eligibility for farmers to receive compensation from USDA when they are forced to cull their herds or keep their poultry barns empty for an extended period due to avian flu outbreaks. The proposed legislation has support from the National Chicken Council and several state farm bureaus. The senators plan to introduce the bill next month and hope to include it in the farm bill. The bill addresses the financial harm experienced by farmers and simplifies the compensation process, aiding their recovery after losing their flocks.

Avian flu outbreaks can have severe impacts on chicken farmers, who often rely on loans to build specialized barns for raising chickens. When outbreaks occur, USDA policies may prevent companies from placing birds in areas recently affected by the virus, resulting in farmers not being paid. The recent avian flu outbreak was particularly significant, leading to prolonged disruptions in poultry farming in some areas.


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