FY 2017 Agriculture Appropriations

FOIA Language

The FY17 Ag Appropriations bill was recently passed by the House Appropriations Committee. The bill includes report language that would exempt checkoff boards from any Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.  The specific report language reads, “The funding used to operate and carry out the activities of the various research and promotion programs is provided by producers and industry stakeholders, and employees on the boards are not federal employees.  Therefore, the committee urges USDA to recognize that such boards are not subject to the provisions of 5 U.S.C. Section 552 (the Freedom of Information Act).”

Over the past few weeks, a few groups worked quietly and successfully to add this report language to the House Ag Appropriations bill.  This is only report language and does not make any changes to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and if this provision is included in the final FY17 appropriations bill, it is only applicable for one fiscal year (rider); and public documents, including all documents related to the checkoff programs, will still be available in a FOIA request from USDA.

The bill totals $21.3 billion in discretionary funding, which is $451 million lower than the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $281 million below the President’s budget request. In addition, the bill contains several policy provisions to rein in unnecessary and burdensome regulations that harm U.S. food producers and that impede growth in important U.S. industries.

Highlights:

The legislation focuses investments in programs that bolster U.S. agriculture, support rural communities, maintain and promote food and drug safety, and provide nutrition for those in need.

In total, the bill allows for $147.7 billion in both discretionary and mandatory funding – $2.3 billion below the President’s request and $7.2 billion above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. Discretionary funding alone provided by the bill is $21.3 billion, $451 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level.

> Agricultural Research – The bill provides $2.85 billion for agriculture research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. This funding will support research to help mitigate and stop devastating crop diseases, improve food safety and water quality, increase production, and combat antimicrobial resistance. This funding also includes important research investments in U.S. land-grant colleges and universities. Included in this level is a $25 million increase for USDA’s premier competitive research program – the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.

> Animal and Plant Health – The legislation includes $934 million – $29.6 million above the President’s budget request and $36.4 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level – for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. This funding will support programs to help control or eradicate plant and animal pests and diseases that can be crippling to U.S. producers. The increase will help address harmful outbreaks of citrus greening and highly pathogenic avian influenza, as well as funds to support the Zoonotic Disease Management Program for antimicrobial resistance activities.

> Conservation Programs – The bill provides $868 million to help farmers, ranchers, and private forest landowners conserve and protect their land. This includes $12 million for infrastructure rehabilitation to help small communities meet current safety standards for watershed projects.

> Farm Service Agency (FSA) – The legislation provides $1.51 billion for FSA, which is the same as the fiscal year 2016 level. This funding will continue support for various farm, conservation, and emergency loan programs, and will help American farmers and ranchers with the implementation of the farm bill.

> Rural Development – The bill provides a total of $2.88 billion for rural development programs, which is $113 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. These programs help create an environment for economic growth by supporting basic rural infrastructure, providing loans to increase opportunities for rural businesses and industries, and helping balance the playing field in local rural housing markets.

> Business and Industry Loans – The legislation includes a loan level of $920 million –the same as the fiscal year 2016 enacted level – for the rural business and industry loan program. This funding will help small businesses in rural areas, many of which face unique challenges due to local economic conditions.

> Rural Infrastructure – The legislation includes responsible investments in infrastructure to help rural areas of the country access basic utilities. This includes $1.25 billion – the same as the fiscal year 2016 enacted level – for rural water and waste program loans, and $533 million for grants and related costs, an increase of $11 million above current levels and $71.6 million above the request. In addition, $6.94 billion is provided for rural electric and telephone infrastructure loans, the same level as fiscal year 2016.

> Rural Housing Loans and Rental Assistance – The bill provides a total of $24 billion in loan authority for the Single Family Housing guaranteed loan program, which is equal to the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and the President’s request. In addition, the bill includes $1 billion in direct loans – an increase of $100 million from the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and the President’s request – to meet increased demand. These loans provide low-income rural families – many of whom would have few loan options for purchasing a home because of their geographical location – with home loan assistance. In addition, $1.4 billion, an increase of $15 million above current levels, is provided for rental assistance for affordable rental housing for low-income families and the elderly in rural communities.

> Food Safety and Inspection Service – The legislation includes $1 billion for food safety and inspection programs – an increase of $15.5 million above the 2016 enacted level. These mandatory inspection activities help ensure the safety and productivity of the country’s $185 billion meat and poultry industry, and keep safe, healthy food on American tables. The funding provided will maintain more than 8,000 frontline inspection personnel for meat, poultry, and egg products at approximately 6,400 facilities across the country.

> Food and Drug Administration (FDA) – The FDA receives a total of $2.7 billion in discretionary funding in the bill, an increase of $33 million over the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. Total funding for the FDA, including revenue from user fees, is $4.78 billion – $97.4 million above fiscal year 2016. Within this total, food safety activities are increased by $33.2 million, and medical product safety activities are increased by $9.4 million.

The bill provides $10 million in funding through the FDA to combat Zika and Ebola outbreaks by helping to fund ongoing response activities, and to expedite the development and availability of medical products to fight the viruses.

The bill also includes a policy provision delaying the implementation of a new menu labeling regulation by a year to give restaurants, local supermarkets, grocery stores, and similar retail establishments adequate time to comply with the law.

> Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) – Included in the bill is $250 million for the CFTC, the same as the 2016 enacted level and $80 million below the President’s budget request. The agreement includes language allowing the CFTC to sublease its excess space to achieve savings identified by the Government Accountability Office and Inspector General.

> International Programs – The legislation contains $1.9 billion for overseas food aid and to promote U.S. agricultural exports. This includes $1.5 billion – a $116 million increase above the President’s request – for “Food for Peace” grants, and $202 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition program. These programs seek to reduce chronic hunger and increase food security by providing American-grown food, transported by U.S. ships, to foreign countries in need of aid. The bill also includes language ensuring the U.S. Agency for International Development provides the assistance required by the Food for Peace Act.

> Food and Nutrition Programs – The legislation contains discretionary funding, as well as mandatory funding required by law, for food and nutrition programs within the Department of Agriculture. This includes funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and child nutrition programs.

> Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – The bill provides $6.35 billion in discretionary funding for WIC, which is the same as the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and the President’s request. Because of robust prior-year funding and declining enrollments in the program, WIC has record levels of carryover balances left over from previous years. Therefore, to make the best use of taxpayer dollars, the bill rescinds $100 million in these unobligated balances, which will have no impact on participation in the program.

> Child nutrition programs – The bill provides for $23.2 billion in required mandatory funding – which is outside the discretionary funding jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee – for child nutrition programs. This is $1 billion above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. This funding will provide free or reduced-price school lunches and snacks for 32 million children who qualify for the program. The bill provides more than $628 million for the Summer Food Service Program to ensure low-income children continue to receive nutritious meals when school is not in session. In addition, the bill continues funding for a pilot program that provides additional funds through SNAP or WIC electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to ensure children in underserved communities receive food during the summer months. The bill continues existing provisions that allow schools demonstrating a financial hardship to seek an exemption from the whole grain nutrition standards, and prevents the implementation of further sodium reduction standards until the latest scientific research establishes the reduction is beneficial for children.

> Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – The bill provides for $79.7 billion in required mandatory spending – which is outside the discretionary funding jurisdiction of the Appropriations Committee – for SNAP. This is $1.2 billion below last year’s level and $2.02 billion below the President’s budget request, reflecting declining enrollment. The total includes $3 billion for the SNAP reserve fund, $2 billion below the President’s request, which is used to cover any unexpected participation increases.

In addition, the bill includes a provision preventing fraudulent SNAP participation in multiple states by requiring households to report when they move out of the state in which they are certified to receive SNAP benefits. Provisions are also included to increase congressional oversight of administrative activities and expenses, such as nutrition research and evaluations.

The bill also provides $19 million in discretionary funding to purchase commodities for the emergency food assistance program (TEFAP). This will maintain level funding for the program.

> FY 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations

The House Appropriations Committee released the fiscal year 2017 Energy and Water Development, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which will be considered in subcommittee tomorrow. The legislation provides annual funding for national defense nuclear weapons activities, the Army Corps of Engineers, various programs under the Department of Energy (DOE), and other related agencies.

The bill totals $37.4 billion – $259 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $168 million above the President’s budget request. Funding is targeted toward national security efforts, and energy and water infrastructure investments.

A summary of the subcommittee draft of the fiscal year 2017 Energy and Water Appropriations bill follows:

The bill totals $37.4 billion – $259 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $168 million above the President’s budget request.

The bill provides strong national security investments, including increases above fiscal year 2016 for nuclear weapons programs. The bill also protects funding for critical national and regional waterways – which handle commerce valued at more than $2 trillion annually – through the Army Corps of Engineers, and programs that encourage energy independence and economic competitiveness. To meet these needs, the legislation contains targeted reductions to lower-priority or unnecessary programs.

> Army Corps of Engineers – The Army Corps of Engineers is funded at $6.1 billion, an increase of $100 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $1.5 billion above the President’s budget request. The bill focuses funding on activities that will have an immediate impact on public safety, job creation, and economic growth, including those that help increase the functionality of our ports and waterways. For example, the bill provides:

$2.7 billion for navigation projects and studies, including $1.263 billion in funding from the Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund and full use of estimated annual revenues from the Inland Waterways Trust Fund, to help advance American competitiveness and export ability; and

$1.8 billion to support public health and safety by funding flood and storm damage reduction activities, an increase of $105 million above fiscal year 2016 and $582 million above the budget request.

> Environmental Cleanup – Included in the legislation is $6.15 billion for environmental management activities, $66 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. This includes $5.2 billion for Defense Environmental Cleanup to safely clean sites contaminated by previous nuclear weapons production.

> Energy Programs – Funding for energy programs within DOE is $11.08 billion – an increase of $56 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $1.3 billion below the President’s request. Within this total, the bill prioritizes and increases funding for energy programs that encourage U.S. economic competitiveness and that help advance the nation’s goal of an “all-of-the-above” solution to energy independence.

Research and development to advance coal, natural gas, oil, and other fossil energy technologies, which will help the country make greater use of our rich natural energy resources and help keep down energy costs, are funded at $645 million – an increase of $13 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. The bill reflects the national importance of these projects, and rejects the Administration’s proposal to reduce new funding for these accounts.

In addition, nuclear energy research, development, and demonstration activities are increased by $25 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level, for a total funding level of $1.01 billion.

Renewable energy programs, which have already received significant investments in recent years, are cut by $248 million compared to fiscal year 2016 and $1.07 billion compared to the President’s budget request.

> Science Research – The bill includes $5.4 billion for science research – an increase of $50 million above the fiscal year 2016 enacted level. This funding supports basic energy research, the development of high-performance computing systems, and research into the next generation of energy sources. These investments lay the groundwork for a more secure energy future, helping to reduce the nation’s dependence on foreign oil and ensuring continued economic growth.

> Bureau of Reclamation – The legislation contains $1.1 billion – $131 million below the fiscal year 2016 enacted level and $27 million above the President’s request – for the Department of the Interior and the Bureau of Reclamation to help manage, develop, and protect the water resources of Western states.

Several new provisions have been included to help Californians who have suffered extreme challenges from years of historic drought, exacerbated by excessive federal regulations. These provisions in the bill will help provide relief for these communities, and will assist in the capture and delivery of more water to towns and fields.

> Yucca Mountain – The bill continues congressional efforts to support the Yucca Mountain nuclear repository, providing $150 million for the Nuclear Waste Disposal program and $20 million for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue the adjudication of DOE’s Yucca Mountain License application. The legislation also denies the Administration’s funding proposals for non-Yucca nuclear waste activities.

Other appropriations policy items include:

The bill prohibits any changes to federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

The bill prohibits any changes to the definition of “fill material” and “discharge of fill material” for the purposes of the Clean Water Act.

The bill restricts the application of the Clean Water Act in certain agricultural areas, including farm ponds and irrigation ditches.

The bill includes language allowing the possession of firearms on Corps of Engineers lands.

The bill prohibits new nuclear nonproliferation projects in Russia.