A House spending bill for the Agriculture Department would provide another $1.1 billion for rural broadband in fiscal 2021, a $435 million increase more than Congress provided for this year.
The draft bill, which the Democratic-controlled House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee will consider Monday evening, also includes provisions to block the Trump administration from implementing new restrictions on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eligibility and benefits.
Another policy rider would block USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service from granting line speed waivers at meat processing facilities while the COVID-19 pandemic is ongoing.
The legislation, which also includes funding for the Food and Drug Administration and Commodity Futures Trading Commission, would provide just under $24 billion for discretionary spending programs at USDA, FDA and CFTC, a $487 million increase over FY20, which ends Sept. 30.
Spending for discretionary programs — which also include agricultural research, rural development and food safety as well as marketing and regulation programs and some food assistance — is determined by annual appropriations bills. Farm programs and school nutrition programs are considered mandatory spending programs because their funding levels are determined by laws such as the farm bill.
“Once again, our bill rejects the administration’s drastic cuts and instead builds on the four COVID-19 supplemental bills Congress passed this spring by providing funding increases for our rural communities, vulnerable populations, and essential workers,” said the subcommittee chairman, Sanford Bishop, D-Ga. (pictured above).
He said the bill “blocks two unconscionable SNAP rules designed to restrict program eligibility during a pandemic that has made it even harder for American families to put food on the table.”
One of the rules would make it more difficult to get waivers from SNAP work requirements. The other would change the way that utility costs are used to determine SNAP benefits.
Bishop said the increase in broadband funding is intended “to ensure everyone is connected to the economy and increases funding for agricultural research to keep American agriculture the best in the world.”
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The broadband funding includes an additional $990 million for USDA’s’ ReConnect program, which was created by Congress in 2018 to provide loans and grants for rural broadband expansion.
The bill would provide $190 million for USDA’s marketing programs, a $2 million increase over 2020. The funding includes $16.5 million for USDA’s new hemp production program and $20 million for the Local Agriculture Market Program, which supports local food and value-added agriculture.
The bill would provide $3.3 billion for agriculture research, a $90 million increase over 2020.
Also included in the bill is $2 billion for international food assistance programs that President Donald Trump has sought to kill. The measure would provide $1.8 billion for the Food for Peace program and $235 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program.
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