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House advances ag appropriations bill

Increases seen in ag research and farm bill implementation funds, while riders limit ERS/NIFA move and hog slaughter rule changes.

On Tuesday, the House passed a package of fiscal 2020 appropriations bills on a 227-194 vote. The package consists of five bills that fund federal departments -- including commerce, justice, agriculture, interior, veterans affairs, energy, transportation and housing and urban development -- from Oct. 1, 2019, to Sept. 30, 2020.

Rep. Sanford Bishop Jr. (D., Ga.), chairman of the House appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, rural development, food and drug administration and related agencies, said the final package rejected the Administration’s draconian cuts to programs that assist rural communities. It exceeded the budget request by more than $5.1 billion, allocating a total of $24.31 billion.

The legislation provides $1.802 billion for farm programs, which is $32.1 million above the fiscal 2019 level and includes an increase of $30 million for 2018 farm bill implementation.

The package includes $1.04 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) – $23 million above the fiscal 2019 enacted level. The funding level provides increases that will help address harmful pests and diseases, such as cattle fever ticks and chronic wasting disease, while maintaining increases from past years for citrus greening. An amendment to the House’s agricultural appropriations bill will provide states with $15 million to combat the spread of chronic wasting disease in wild deer. A second amendment will direct $1.72 million to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service to research chronic wasting disease and improve the effectiveness of testing methods.

The bills provide $183 million to facilitate the movement of agricultural products and open market opportunities -- $24 million above the 2019 level and $68 million above the request.

The legislation invests more than $680 million in the expansion of broadband service to provide economic development opportunities and improved education and health care services. A bipartisan amendment introduced by Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D., Va.) would increase funding for the ReConnect Rural Broadband Program by $55 million over current funding levels.

The package provides $3.28 billion ($410 million above the budget request) for agriculture research programs, including USDA's Agricultural Research Service and National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA). The Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation applauded the $45 million increase for the Agriculture & Food Research Initiative (AFRI). In addition to AFRI, the House's fiscal 2020 USDA budget includes significant gains for other competitive research programs, such as the Beginning Farmer & Rancher Development Program, Food Safety Outreach Program, Organic Transition Program and Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education Program.

The American Veterinary Medical Assn. (AVMA) welcomed the $1 million increase in annual funding for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, bringing it to $9 million. This funding increase will help the program place more food animal veterinarians in rural areas to close veterinary access gaps. AVMA said it worked closely with Congress to secure this funding.

The spending bills also maintain $3 million in funding for the Veterinary Services Grant Program, which similarly helps meet rural veterinary needs by providing grants to support education and extension activities and practice enhancement initiatives for food animal veterinary services.

Of additional importance to veterinary medicine, the bills maintain level funding of $16.3 million for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, provide a $2 million increase for the APHIS Center for Veterinary Biologics and provide an increase of $4.2 million for APHIS Veterinary Diagnostics.

The package includes language blocking USDA’s proposal to relocate the Economic Research Service (ERS) and NIFA outside the National Capital Region. USDA announced earlier this month that it plans to move the agencies to the Kansas City Region by September 2019.

The bills prevent USDA from finalizing a rule related to swine slaughter inspection until the USDA Office of Inspector General (OIG) has reported on the data used to support the design of the proposed program and until USDA has resolved the issues identified by the OIG report.

“This is a welcome development,” Food & Water Watch senior food lobbyist Tony Corbo said, also commending Reps. Rosa DeLauro (D., Conn.) and David Price (D., N.C.) "for authoring the provision" and thanking the House "for taking this action. Now that the full House of Representatives has spoken, we urge the USDA OIG to swiftly begin the much-needed review of the flawed rule-making."

The House bills require USDA to repost all Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act inspection and enforcement reports that were formerly available on its website and to post new reports going forward. It also includes a prohibition on funding for the operation of horse slaughterhouses in the U.S.

The interior appropriations division includes funding for the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Wild Horse & Burro Program to enable an effective, humane and non-lethal management strategy that will balance wild horse and burro populations over the next decade. It also prevents BLM from killing healthy horses or selling them to slaughter. A new provision prevents the U.S. Forest Service from killing healthy horses and burros or selling them to slaughter as well.

For a summary of agricultural provisions, click here.

TAGS: Policy
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