Agriculture Spending Bill Calls for $876M in Discretionary Cuts

By Renee Hickman

House appropriators unveiled a fiscal 2018 agriculture and food safety draft spending bill June 27 that would provide $20 billion in discretionary funding, which is $876 million less than current spending and $4.64 billion more than President Donald Trump recommended.

Overall, the Agriculture appropriations bill would provide $144.9 billion in both discretionary and mandatory spending, which is $8.5 billion less than in fiscal 2017.

The bill diverges from Trump’s budget request in several key areas.

Appropriators would provide $1.8 billion for international food aid programs, including the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program that the Trump budget targeted for elimination. The program donates U.S. agricultural commodities, as well as financial and technical assistance, to food-insecure countries in the developing world.

“The safety and accessibility of our nation’s food and drug supply is of utmost importance to our economy, our quality of life, and—given the great benefit of producing necessities here at home—our national security,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said in a statement. “This bill prioritizes funding on federal programs that support these critical industries and the farmers, ranchers, medical professionals, and many others that form the backbone of our food and drug supply—which is the best in the world.”

Conservation, Water Funding Cuts Rejected

Rural water and wastewater program loans—which the Trump budget also recommended cutting—would get $1.25 billion under the draft bill, preserving the fiscal year 2017 enacted level.

The bill also would provide $1.6 billion for farm programs related to conservation and emergency loans, which the committee said would help farmers and ranchers with the implementation of the farm bill. This is $44 million above the president’s budget request.

Food and Nutrition Program Changes

The bill also includes policy provisions designed to preempt the implementation of a number of Obama-era school meal nutrition requirements.

Schools demonstrating financial hardship could be exempted from a rule requiring them to serve whole grain-rich food, and further implementation of sodium reduction standards would be stopped. Schools also would be allowed to serve both low-fat and fat-free flavored milk where only fat-free flavored milk is currently allowed.

Discretionary funding for the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) food assistance program would be cut to $6.15 billion, down $200 million from 2017. The committee said $600 million will be rescinded from the program’s large carryover balances, which are a result of declining enrollments as well as prior-year funding. The committee said this will have no impact of the number of people able to participate in WIC, which provides health and nutrition assistance for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to age five.

The bill also projects $24.28 billion in required mandatory funding for child nutrition programs including free and reduced-price school lunch programs, and $73.6 billion in required mandatory spending for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which also provides nutritional assistance to low-income families. The funding for these programs is outside the authority of the House Appropriations Committee, which is responsible only for discretionary spending.

Food Safety

The bill would increase spending on food safety and inspection programs by $6 million over fiscal 2017, and the Food and Drug Administration would receive discretionary funding equal to the 2017 enacted level of $2.8 billion.

Total FDA funding would total $5.2 billion, a $490 increase over fiscal 2017 that includes revenue collected in user fees from industry.

The Agriculture, Rural Development, and FDA Appropriations Subcommittee is slated to mark up the bill June 28.

To contact the reporter on this story: Renee Hickman in Washington at rhickman@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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