The House on Thursday voted 219-208 to pass a package of seven fiscal 2022 spending bills that would provide significant increases for climate measures and agricultural research while also beefing up agencies that enforce environmental and labor regulations.
During debate on the appropriations “minibus,” the House adopted amendments that would increase field staffing at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service and also fund additional personnel for the department’s rural development programs.
Another amendment that was adopted would expand eligibility for rural broadband assistance through USDA’s ReConnect grant and loan programs. Under current rules, the assistance is limited to areas with existing service no better than 10 megabits per second download and one Mbps upload.
The amendment would increase that limit to 25/3 Mbps, which is the minimum service requirement for projects funded through ReConnect.
Under a ReConnect authorization bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee earlier this month, the 10/1 definition would continue to be used for unserved communities that are the highest priority for funding.
Also adopted was an amendment that would increase funding for USDA’s Urban Agriculture and Innovative Production Program by $542,000.
The minibus is made up of the Agriculture bill, which funds USDA, the Food and Drug Administration and Commodity Futures Trading Commission, as well as the Labor-HHS, Energy-Water, Financial Services, Interior-Environment, Military Construction and Transportation-HUD measures.
The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1. The Senate Appropriations Committee has yet to move its version of the House measures.
Under the House legislation, various USDA programs and offices would get $347.4 million for climate-related work, including research needs,
Ag research programs would be increased by $321 million to $3.4 billion for research, including $1.64 billion for USDA’s in-house research agency, the Agricultural Research Service.
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which funds research through colleges and universities and other outside entities, would get a $69 million increase in FY22 to $992.6 million.
“This bill is a commitment to maintaining our country’s leadership not only to grow the best and most nutritious food in the world, but make sure that it is available to those who need it as we fight food insecurity," said Rep. Sanford Bishop, who chairs the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee. He said the billl also "addresses the existential threat posed by climate change to our communities and farmlands.”
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EPA’s environmental programs would be funded at $3.4 billion under the House bill, a $603 million increase from FY21 and just $63 million below what Biden requested. Those programs include EPA’s regulatory enforcement work as well as “geographic” programs that fund initiatives to clean up and curb pollution in the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and other areas.
The Interior Department’s Fish and Wildlife Service, which enforces the Endangered Species Act, would get $1.9 billion, a $301 million increase over FY21.
At the Labor Department, the Wage and Hour Division would be funded at $300 million, a $54 million increase over FY21. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration would get $692 million, a $100 million increase from the current year.
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