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House advances ag appropriations bill

TAGS: Policy
Dollar Signs on Green Lawn
Ag funding included in four minibus package, while Senate still hasn’t started work on appropriations bills.

On Friday, the House passed a four-bill, $259.5 billion fiscal 2021 spending package (H.R. 7608) that includes $24 billion in funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food & Drug Administration.

For fiscal 2021, total discretionary funding in the legislation is $23.98 billion, an increase of $487 million from the fiscal 2020 enacted level. In total, the bill allows for $153 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding, an increase of $331 million from the 2020 enacted level.

Among other details, the agriculture bill includes $1.07 billion ($27 million above the 2020 enacted level) for USDA’s Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service and $3.3 billion ($92 million above the 2020 enacted level) for the Agriculture Research Service and the National Institute of Food & Agriculture.

The bill provides $190 million -- $2 million above 2020 and $42 million above the request -- to facilitate the movement of agricultural products and open market opportunities. This includes $18 million for the National Organic Program to protect the integrity of the USDA organic label and $16.5 million for the new hemp production program. The bill also provides $20 million in discretionary funds to the Agricultural Marketing Service and Rural Development for the Local Agriculture Market Program to continue supporting local food and value-added agriculture.

The legislation invests more than $1.025 billion, an increase of $435 million from the 2020 enacted level, in the expansion of broadband service to provide economic development opportunities and improved education and health care services, including $990 million for the ReConnect program.

The House adopted a package of amendments on Thursday, including one that would prevent USDA from carrying out the Defense Production Act to keep meat packing plants on line during a pandemic. The bill includes language to block USDA from granting line speed waivers at meat processing facilities during the public health emergency.

The dairy industry welcomed several provisions in the bill, specifically one urging FDA to enforce dairy product standards of identity. Rep. Peter Welch (D., Vt.), with bipartisan support from 18 of his colleagues, added an amendment on the House floor directing FDA to allocate $5 million to enforce federal rules that reserve dairy product terms for real dairy products. The committee report also directs FDA to finally start enforcing dairy product standards of identity pursuant to a review process it began two years ago following pressure from the National Milk Producers Federation and Congress.

The appropriations package also sets aside $6 million for the Dairy Business Innovation Initiatives program, which provides direct technical assistance and grants to dairy businesses to further the development, production, marketing and distribution of dairy products. While the House Appropriations Committee initially provided $1 million for the program, Welch and Rep. Bryan Steil (R.,. Wis.) secured an additional $5 million in an amendment passed by the entire House. It also allocates $1 million to the Healthy Fluid Milk Incentives Projects, a program created in the 2018 farm bill to develop pilot programs to boost milk consumption among households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

The bill includes language that allows low-fat (1% fat) flavored milk to be offered in the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program.

It allocates $10 million for the Farm & Ranch Stress Assistance Network, a USDA program aimed at connecting those working in agriculture to stress assistance and support programs.

The overall spending bill also includes funding for Interior-Environment, Military Construction-VA and State-Foreign Operations.

The Senate has yet to begin work on its own appropriations measures, and it is unclear when it plans to do so.

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