The House Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2022 funding bill Wednesday for the Agriculture Department, Food and Drug Administration and Commodity Futures Trading Commission that would boost spending by more than 10%, including hefty amounts for ag research and climate-change-related programs.
The increase of about $2.8 billion to $26.6 billion “is critical as we work to tackle hunger, lift up rural communities, rebuild public health and safety infrastructure, confront the climate crisis, and foster greater equity,” Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., said.
The bill passed by voice vote, although Republicans said that as a non-defense measure, the spending was simply too high. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said the bill is “based on a funding framework that does not have bipartisan support. If we want to fund good things in this bill, we’ve got to adjust funding levels.”
Before advancing the bill, the committee approved a couple of controversial amendments, including a measure to revoke line-speed waivers granted to 16 poultry plants, and another to prohibit the purchase of farmland by companies owned in whole or in part by the People’s Republic of China.
In his opening statement at Wednesday’s markup, Ag Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said the bill includes $3.4 billion for agricultural research and nearly $350 million for climate change mitigation. “The investments in this bill will help lay the foundation for sustainable agricultural improvements to mitigate the consequences of climate change while maintaining high levels of production,” he said.
USDA's Agricultural Research Service would receive about $1.6 billion, about $212 million less than requested but $145 million more than the current year’s budget. The National Institute of Food and Agriculture would get about $1 billion — less than the budget request by $317 million but above the FY 21 level of $992 million.
Bishop said the bill “fully funds the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Women, Infants and Children program and child nutrition to meet expected participation in FY 2022.
“The bill provides additional protections for SNAP recipients by providing a ‘such sums’ appropriation for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2022 to ensure SNAP does not run out of money,” Bishop said, a provision Cole criticized as a “blank check.”
Broadband spending in the bill totals more than $907 million, an increase of $165 million above FY 2021. The bill also includes $6 billion in discretionary funding for the Women, Infants and Children program, including $834 million to increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables in the WIC Food Package.
The committee’s passage of the bill came after debate on a series of amendments and approval of one sponsored by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., that would revoke 16 line-speed waivers at poultry plants that were granted by the Trump administration during the pandemic.
The amendment cleared the committee by voice vote. It also would prohibit any more waivers while the federal COVID-19 emergency declaration is still in effect.
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“We must do all we can to ensure the safety of workers,” said California Democrat Barbara Lee, who introduced the amendment.
Republican opponents, however, said there was no connection between increased line speeds and worker safety, and argued that reducing line speeds would increase food insecurity. The National Chicken Council, responding to the amendment, said “chicken plants have been safely operating at these line speeds for more than 20 years, originally implemented under the Clinton administration. Lowering line speeds, and thus total output, could threaten the availability and affordability of chicken to consumers,” leading to increased hunger.
In addition, “decreasing output at 16 chicken processing plants across the country would have a devastating effect on thousands of farm families who raise the birds for these complexes,” NCC said. “Farmers may not have their contracts renewed, may see increased time between flocks, or may see less birds per flock. These all could have significant impacts on their bottom lines and the rural communities in which they live and operate.”
The amendment to prohibit Chinese government-controlled entities from purchasing farmland sparked a spirited debate, with Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., citing concerns about Asian Americans who have been subject to increased harassment and violent attacks since the pandemic began.
After a recess, however, amendment sponsor Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., said he had discussed the matter with Meng and that all parties, including DeLauro, Bishop, and ag appropriations ranking member Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., were committed to continuing work on the amendment’s wording.
The committee rejected an amendment to prohibit spending on the administration’s Civilian Climate Corps and another that would have prevented USDA from spending any money to detail employees to the U.S.-Mexico border to deal with the surge in traffic.
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