WASHINGTON, March 16, 2016 - Proposals to cut at least $1 billion in agriculture spending and block grant the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have some Washington groups and lawmakers worried.

The FY 2017 Budget Resolution released Tuesday by the House Budget Committee calls on all 12 authorizing committees, including the Agriculture Committee, to each find $1 billion in savings over a 10-year period under a reconciliation provision. The budget plan also proposes an additional $30 billion in cuts outside the reconciliation process, but contains no details on where the spending reductions would come from.

The proposed cuts are troubling, said Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

“Reopening the farm bill through the budget reconciliation process in order to achieve a savings that is only a tiny fraction of 1 percent of farm bill spending would not even be worth the effort,” Hoefner said about reconciliation. As to the $30 billion in cuts, he added: “The rest of the proposal, outside of the budget reconciliation process, is so ill-defined that members would not even know what they were voting for if they endorsed it. The 2018 farm bill process is the time to deal with these issues, not a short-session presidential election year.”

The NSAC was just one of 256 agricultural groups that signed onto a March 9 letter the leaders of the House Budget Committee and Senate Appropriations Committee, asking them not to cut farm program spending and highlighting spending cuts already made in the 2014 farm bill: “Two years ago, Congress passed a bipartisan farm bill that made a significant contribution to deficit reduction. This bipartisan legislation was estimated to contribute $16 billion to deficit reduction over 10 years. These difficult cuts resulted from hard choices made to reform and reduce the farm safety net, conservation programs and nutrition assistance programs. Some of the reforms made in the new farm bill are still being implemented.”

But just because reconciliation and other cuts are called for doesn’t mean they’ll be made in the end, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway told Agri-Pulse. Similar cuts were called for in the 2016 budget resolution, but didn’t happen, he said.

“Those instructions don’t get followed to the T,” Conaway said in an interview and stressed that now is not the time to take away funding from farm bill programs. “We’re going to work with whatever happens, but farm income is down 55 percent over the last three years – the worst drop since the (1920s and 1930s) and now is not the time to redo the safety net,” he said.

As to the proposal to shift the SNAP program from federal to state control, Conaway also said this is the wrong time to make significant changes.

“On SNAP, we’re not ready to move anything there because of the work we’ve been doing for 14 months,” Conaway said, alluding to the series of hearings he has held over more than a year in an extended top-to-bottom examination of the food stamp program.

“This is too premature to get too exercised about what might or might not happen,” he said.

But the proposal to block grant SNAP – what the resolution calls a State Flexibility Fund – would result in billions of dollars being cut from the program, said Ellen Vollinger, legal director for the Food Research and Action Center, or FRAC.

And Rep. Rosa DeLauro was one of the first to voice concerns about the proposal when it was released Tuesday.

How can Speaker (Paul) Ryan claim to want to end poverty, only to then propose a budget that decimates the very programs that help millions of America’s poor?” she said. “The Republicans’ rhetoric on poverty is hollow and their actions do not match their words. We need a budget that will work for all Americans, not just the wealthy few.”

But Conaway was adamant in playing down possible major changes. “In terms of what (House Budget Committee Chairman Tom Price) is proposing, those are all just suggestions that won’t require anything other than what we’ve done in the past,” he said.


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