Lawmakers have a shortened week of business starting today before they begin a two-week recess for the July 4 holiday. But the Senate Appropriations Committee will take a step toward a likely showdown with the House over funding the government.

On Thursday, the Senate committee will meet to debate the first two of 12 bills needed to fund the government for fiscal 2024, including the Agriculture measure that funds USDA and FDA.

The committee hasn’t released the text of the Ag bill yet but it’s certain to include significantly more new funding than the version that Republicans advanced through the House Appropriations Committee last week.

A senior member of Senate Appropriations, John Boozman of Arkansas, acknowledges it’s going to be hard to find an agreement between the House and Senate. But he expresses optimism that allowing members to debate spending bills on both the House and Senate floor this year will lead to some willingness to compromise.

“Members really want to participate in the process,” Boozman said. “I think once we get them participating in the process, and they start seeing results, seeing things passed, then there's a tendency then to kind of work all these things out.”

Rural health services need attention

Voters nationwide think health care in rural communities is worse than in the rest of the country, according to a new online survey commissioned by One Country Project. Since 2010, more than 130 rural hospitals have closed, leaving hundreds of miles between facilities. The far distances can be even more critical when dealing with life-threatening conditions such as a brain injury, heart attack or stroke when every second counts. 

The survey found that 96% of voters agree emergency air medical transportation is an important life-saving service. It also found that 84% support increasing the Medicare reimbursement rate for air medical services. Currently the rate only covers 50% of the costs associated with transporting patients via air ambulance. The survey found that 84% of voters oppose the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ recent cuts to the emergency air medical reimbursement rate.

Former North Dakota Democratic senator and One country Project founder Heidi Heitkamp said the findings “underscore the importance of preserving access to emergency air medical services for rural Americans. It’s crucial to ensure air medical providers are fairly reimbursed so that patients can continue having access to this lifesaving service.”

New bill protects retailers from SNAP EBT transaction fees

Rep. Shontel Brown, D-Ohio, has introduced the Ensuring Fee-Free Benefit Transactions Act to make permanent provisions in the 2018 farm bill to protect Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program retailers from fees by closing a loophole that subjects them to processing fees on SNAP transactions. 

“These extra costs to businesses could force many small, minority or family-owned independent retailers to stop accepting SNAP or raise their prices,” Brown said in a release. 

The bill is supported by the National Grocers Association and the Food Industry Association.  

Public Lands Council ramps up effort against BLM proposal

The Public Lands Council, a group of cattle and sheep producers, said Monday it was preparing a letter criticizing a proposed Bureau of Land Management rule that would allow BLM to enter into 10-year conservation leases with third-party entities.

The letter for which the group is collecting signatures argues that the BLM “repeatedly failed in their commitment to work with stakeholders like ranchers.” It said the agency did not provide advance notice or have discussions with rancher organizations and only held three briefings in “major urban areas” instead of areas where ranchers live.

Don’t miss a beat! It’s easy to sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! For the latest on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and around the country in agriculture, just click here.

Take note: At a hearing last week, BLM principal deputy director Nada Wolff Culver said the agency held five informational sessions on the proposed rule and plans to consider over 120,000 public comments before finalizing it. 

New York senator proposes national farmer suicide hotline

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced legislation last week that would create a 24/7 national crisis hotline for farmers and ranchers.

The National Agricultural Crisis Hotline Act would be staffed by licensed health care and mental health professionals familiar with agriculture, who could “provide suicide crisis intervention, mental health and substance use disorder support, and agriculture-related referral services,” according to a press release.

Take note: Producers can currently access the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, which supports the general American public, by dialing 988. 

FSA accepting nominations for county committees

The Farm Service Agency is taking nominations for committee elections that will take place later in the year, introducing a new GIS tool so producers can more easily determine which Local Administrative Area they’re located in.

“Based on feedback from stakeholders, including the USDA Equity Commission, we are unveiling this new tool to make it easier for producers to effectively participate in the process,” FSA Administrator Zach Ducheneaux said.

That commission has made a number of recommendations to make county committee membership more diverse.

“Committee members are vital to how FSA carries out disaster programs, as well as conservation, commodity and price support programs, county office employment and other agricultural issues,” USDA said.

Questions, comments, tips? Email