The Senate Agriculture Appropriations subcommittee on Tuesday advanced a fiscal 2019 spending bill for USDA and FDA that would provide $425 million for rural broadband expansion to add to the $600 million that Congress provided for this year. 

The money is being made available through a pilot program that will provide grants as well as loans to telecommunications companies, including rural electric cooperatives. 

The House version of the spending bill would provide $550 million in additional funding for the broadband program for FY19. 

The text of the Senate bill won't be released until the Senate Appropriations Committee takes it up on Thursday, but Agriculture Appropriations Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., said the measure would extend a pilot project intended to address disparities in payments under the Agriculture Risk Coverage program and to provide schools with flexibility in meeting whole grain standards for school meals. 

The Senate and House bills both provide some increased funding for research and for fighting pests and diseases. 

The Senate bill, which the full Appropriations Committee will debate on Thursday, would provide $2.73 billion for agricultural research, including $405 millions for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, which would be increased by $5 million over FY18. 

The legislation would increase funding for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service by $18.4 million to slightly more than $1 billion for FY19. 

"We worked hard to ensure this funding legislation supports the priorities of our producers and rural America," said Hoeven.

The National Organic Program also would get a significant increase, $3 million over FY18, to bring its total funding for the year that starts Oct. 1 to $15 million. Committee Democrats said in a statement that the extra funding will help “protect the value of the USDA organic seal, ensuring that consumers can remain confident in the integrity of these products.”

The bill's total discretionary spending, the type of spending that is controlled by the appropriations committees rather than dictated by laws such as the farm bill, would be increased by $225 million to $23.235 billion for FY19.

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