WASHINGTON, May 19, 2014 -- The House Appropriations agriculture subcommittee on Tuesday will consider a draft bill that provides $142.5 billion in discretionary and mandatory funding for USDA and FDA programs for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

America’s farmers and ranchers do their part to put food on our tables, and this bill is Congress’s part to ensure the safety, productivity, and success of our agricultural industries,” House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said in a announcing the bill’s release. “In addition, this bill supports a variety of nutrition programs to help address one of our biggest national challenges – making sure that our most vulnerable, including children, do not go hungry.”

Indeed, the biggest chunk of the bill -- $82.3 billion in mandatory spending – goes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or what was formerly known as Food Stamps. The total includes $3 billion for the SNAP reserve fund -- $2 billion below President Obama’s request -- which is used to cover any unexpected participation increases. The program has been providing monthly food assistance to about 47 million American.

An additional $20.5 billion in mandatory funding is earmarked for Child Nutrition programs, $1.2 billion above the enacted level for FY 2014. This funding will provide free or reduced-price school lunches and snacks for 30.4 million children who qualify. The bill includes language requiring USDA to establish a process that allows schools demonstrating an economic hardship to seek a temporary waiver from compliance with certain nutrition regulations during the 2014-15 school year.


Committee Republicans said they included that provision at the request of local schools, but the Center for Science in the Public Interest criticized the wording.

“By allowing school districts to opt out of school nutrition standards, House Republicans are opening up the floodgates to let all the old junk food back into schools, while crowding out the fruits and vegetables and whole grains that have been gaining ground in the program.” CSPI said in a release. 

 Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the provision would be a "major step backwards for the health of American children, just at the time childhood obesity rates are finally starting to level off." He said 90 percent of schools report they are successfully implementing the standards, and studies show they are working. "USDA has continued to show flexibility in implementing these new standards, and Congress should focus on partnering with USDA, states, schools, and parents to help our kids have access to more healthy foods, not less," he said.
 The budget proposal also came under fire from AgEC, a coalition of organizations and companies representing clean and renewable energy and bioproducts stakeholders. The group says the bill would reduce mandatory spending levels for energy programs agreed to in the 2014 Farm Bill, including the Renewable Energy for America Program, Biomass Crop Assistance Program, and the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance Program.
The bill provides:

- $2.65 billion for agriculture research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This is approximately equal to the fiscal year 2014 enacted funding level.

- $1.5 billion for the Farm Service Agency, which is $27 million above the FY 2014 enacted level. This funding will support the various farm, conservation, loan, and emergency programs, and will help American farmers and ranchers with the implementation of the recently enacted farm bill.

- $1 billion for USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), approximately the same as the 2014 enacted level. These mandatory inspection activities help ensure the safety and productivity of the country’s $186 billion meat and poultry industry. The funding supports more than 8,000 frontline inspection personnel for meat, poultry, and egg products at more than 6,400 facilities across the country. 

- Almost $2.6 billion for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in discretionary spending, an increase of $23 million over FY 2014 enacted level. Total funding for the FDA, including revenue from user fees, is $4.5 billion, $98 million above 2014. Within this total, food safety activities are increased by $25 million, and drug safety activities are increased by $12 million. 

- $1.7 for International Food Programs, including a $66 million increase above the president’s request for “Food for Peace” grants, and a $13 million increase over the request for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program.

- $218 for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), an increase of approximately $3 million above the FY 2014 enacted level and $62 million below Obama’s budget request. The increase is targeted to necessary information technology improvements.

- $2.6 billion for Rural Development programs, $178 million above the FY 2015 requested level. The bill also establishes a new Chief Risk Officer to oversee and be accountable for the $200 billion rural development loan portfolio.

“This bill honors our commitment to rural America and demonstrates to our farmers that they are not forgotten in Washington,” said Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., chairman of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies. “From funding rural infrastructure development to ‎implementing programs within the new Farm Bill, this year's appropriation seeks to address the needs of rural America while holding the line on government over-reach.”


For more news, go to: www.Agri-Pulse.com

This story was updated at 8:20 p.m. Eastern time.