Lawmakers approve package with USDA increases, policy riders

Farm Forum

After a year in which we watched numerous political stalemates and a painful government shutdown, Congress seems to be starting 2014 on a more positive note. Of course, in a year divisible by two, there’s plenty of reasons to show voters that work is actually getting done and taxpayer dollars are being spent wisely.

Lawmakers started off the year by finally approving a package of appropriations bills that will keep the government going through fiscal 2014. President Barack Obama’s signature came a day after the Senate approved the measure on a 72-26 vote and shortly after the House approved it on a 359-67 vote.

The law funds 12 departments, and gives USDA and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) a total of $20.9 billion in discretionary spending. Several USDA agencies will receive slight increases, or funding levels close to FY 2013.

While largely a spending bill, the law contains several rider provisions that may affect agricultural policy. For example, the law recommends, but does not require, that the USDA delays finalizing country-of-origin (COOL) meat labeling rules until after the World Trade Organization issues a final decision on the program. It also effectively stops the Grain Inspection, Stockyards and Packers Administration from finalizing rules dealing with contracts in the livestock and poultry sector.

The law prohibits funding from being used for USDA inspections of U.S. horse slaughter facilities. A similar ban expired in 2011.

The bill also includes a provision, from Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., which aims to prevent the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) from regulating farms with fewer than 10 employees.

“The inclusion of this language makes it very clear that OSHA does not have the authority to harass family farmers,” Johanns said. “This is more than a victory for our ag producers. It is a win for our economy and the law.”

OSHA issued a memo in 2011 claiming the agency could regulate certain types of grain handling activity on small or family-run farms, despite a clear legal prohibition, according to Johanns.

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said while his organization is pleased by the bipartisan nature of the law, it is “far from perfect.” Johnson said the law includes needed increases for rural development programs, but at the same time, he has concerns about the COOL recommendation.

“It is a sign of desperation when packers, processors, and our foreign competitors go as far as including misleading rhetoric and scare tactics in the omnibus report language, in order to try to deny consumers the right to know the origins of their food,” Johnson said

Other Spending highlights include:

• The Agricultural Marketing Services would receive $79.9 million; GIPSA, $40.2 million; Natural Resources Conservation Services, $812.9 million; Commodity Futures Trading Commission, $215 million; and the National Commission on Hunger, $1 million.

• The FDA would receive $2.552 billion, which is $217 million above fiscal 2013. This includes increases of $53 million to continue implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act and $19 million for improvements to medical product safety.

• The USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service would receive $1.011 billion to fund all current and future estimated inspection services.

• The Farm Service Agency would receive $1.5 billion to maintain fiscal 2013 funding levels. The funding would support various farm, conservation, loan and emergency programs for U.S. farmers and ranchers.

• The Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) would receive $821.7 million, which is equal to the fiscal 2013 level. Some $20 million is earmarked to fight citrus greening.

• Rural development programs would receive $2.4 billion – a $180 million increase.

• The Single Family Housing Direct Loans program would receive a loan level of $900 million for a $60 million increase.

• The Water and Waste Disposal Program would receive a loan and grant program level of $1.752 billion for an increase of $248 million.

• The Community Facilities Program would receive a loan and grant program of $2.288 billion to fund rural community facilities including hospitals, schools and health clinics.

• The Food for Peace program would receive $1.466 billion in PL480 title II grants, for an increase of $107 million. The bill also would maintain Senate language that aims to provide the administration with additional flexibility to implement development assistance around the world while ensuring U.S. farmers and shippers continue their direct involvement in providing international food assistance.

• The McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program would be funded at $185 million, $11 million above fiscal 2013.

• The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) would receive $6.716 billion for an increase of $194 million.

• School cafeterias would receive $25 million for equipment purchases, an increase of $15 million above fiscal 2013.

• The Commodity Supplemental Food Program would receive $203 million for an increase of $21 million.

• The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) would receive mandatory funding of $82.169 billion. The amount would fully fund the food stamp program and reflects the administration’s latest estimates. SNAP is one of the main targets of lawmakers looking for savings in the current farm bill negotiations.

• The Agricultural Research Service (ARS) would receive $1.122 million, $105 million above fiscal 2013 levels.

• The National Institute of Food and Agriculture would receive $1.277 billion for a $74 million increase.

• The National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility would receive $404 million to complete construction in Manhattan, Kan.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said they were happy with the spending agreement.

“We are pleased to have come to a fair, bipartisan agreement on funding the government for 2014,” they said in a joint statement. “Although our differences were many and our deadline short, we were able to a draft a solid piece of legislation that meets the guidelines of the Ryan-Murray deal, keeps the government open, and eliminates the uncertainty and economic instability of stop-gap governing.”