House GOP appropriators proposed Wednesday to slash fiscal 2024 funding for USDA by one-third, in part by eliminating some climate-related funding, restricting Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack’s use of the Commodity Credit Corp. spending authority and expanding work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
A draft FY24 spending bill released by the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee also would rescind some of the funding provided to USDA through the Inflation Reduction Act for energy and farm loan forgiveness.
The bill would provide a total of $17.2 billion to USDA in FY24, which would be the lowest spending level since 2006, according to House Democrats, and a cut of $8.7 billion from FY23. The GOP proposal is $11.7 billion below what President Joe Biden requested for FY24.
The Food and Drug Administration, which is funded through the same annual appropriations bill, would get a slight increase of $16 million to $6.58 billion in FY24, because of an increase in user fees that fund the agency’s regulation of pharmaceuticals.
The USDA totals don’t count programs that are funded through the farm bill and other laws, including crop insurance, commodity programs, conservation assistance, SNAP and child nutrition programs.
“The bill prioritizes agencies and programs that protect our nation’s food and drug supply; support America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities; and ensure low-income Americans have access to nutrition programs,” according to a GOP summary of the bill.
But Vilsack said in a statement that the bill is "pathetic, it is punitive, and it is petty."
"While these individuals continue to posture and put forth non-serious proposals, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is charging ahead implementing policies and making investments that America's farmers, rural communities, and families have been promised and are counting on to continue to rebuild from the pandemic, natural disasters and other challenges outside of their control," he said.
The deep cut in USDA spending is in line with Republican arguments that the spending reductions they are demanding as part of a deal to increase the debt limit would fall much harder on some areas of the government than others. For example, the Military Construction-Veterans Affairs spending bill released earlier in the week would increase funding over FY23.
House Democrats also slammed the USDA spending proposal. The ranking member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., said in a release that the bill would “shortchange America’s rural and underserved communities, restricting their ability to access water and waste systems, nutritious food, and affordable electricity.
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“The federal government should be a steadfast partner for smaller communities whose budgets cannot meet the large, upfront costs of critical quality-of-life projects. Unfortunately, these cuts will hurt the most vulnerable and blunt the forward progress being made to grow our economy for everyone.”
Among the highlights of the bill:
- Restricting Vilsack’s use of the CCC to non-emergency purposes would save $1 billion. Ag Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Andy Harris, R-Md., and other Republicans have been critical of Vilsack’s use of the CCC to fund the $3 billion Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities initiative.
- The legislation would leave alone the IRA funding for farm bill conservation programs but rescind $3.25 billion earmarked for rural electric cooperatives, $500 million for the Rural Energy for America Program and $2 billion for farm loan forgiveness.
- USDA would be blocked from issuing a series of rules intended to restrict contracting practices and increase competition in the meat and poultry sectors.
- To address concerns about foreign land ownership, the bill would increase funding for USDA's tracking system for foreign land ownership under the Agriculture Foreign Investment Disclosure Act. USDA also would be directed to block purchases of U.S. farmland "by companies owned, in full or in part, by the People’s Republic of China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran."
- Agricultural research funding also would be reduced. Funding for USDA’s Agricultural Research would be increased $1.2 million to $1.75 billion but funding for the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, which supports research at land-grant universities, would be cut $9.5 million to $1.69 billion.
- Funding for the the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service would be cut by $2.1 million to $1.169 billion although there would be increases for animal disease traceability, avian health, and specialty crop pests.
- The bill would block implementation of a rule for the Women, Infants and Children nutrition assistance program that would make permanent an increase in fruit and vegetable allowances provided by Congress in 2021, while reducing the dairy allowance.
- USDA would be required to set up five pilot projects that limit the use of SNAP benefits to nutrient-dense foods and beverages, as defined by the 2020 dietary guidelines.
- SNAP work requirements would be expanded to able-bodied adults as old as 55, in line with a provision of the House-passed Limit, Save Grow Act, the GOP negotiating position in debt ceiling talks with the White House. The limit is now 49.
Mike Lavender, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said his group was "deeply disappointed" with the bill.
"There is no surer way to undermine the success of farmers, ranchers, rural communities, and our shared food system than through the proposals included in this bill," he said. "Cuts to research, technical assistance, and market opportunities will effectively strand farmers – and the clear intention to dismantle the department’s equity initiatives would subvert recent efforts to address long-standing systemic, institutional racism."
Zoë Neuberger, a senior policy analyst for the Center for Budget Policy and Priorities, criticized GOP appropriators for proposing to roll back the increase in fruit and vegetable benefits for WIC recipients.
"Why cut fruit and vegetable benefits for low-income families? House Republicans are prioritizing trying to fit their appropriations bills into the austere spending caps in their debt-ceiling-and-cuts bill over the nutrition needs of new and expecting parents and young children," Neuberger said in a series of tweets.