Farm groups urge Senate appropriators to reject House-passed budget cuts
By Agri-Pulse Staff
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 28 - A letter sent Monday from 154 agriculture, food, conservation, and rural organizations calls on members of the Senate Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Agriculture “to reject H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, and to support a net freeze in discretionary spending.” The letter charges that “In its zeal to cut $60 billion dollars from fiscal year 2010 spending levels during the last 6 months of this fiscal year, the House has unfairly targeted agriculture and rural America for a disproportional share of the proposed cuts, and within agriculture has been particularly unfair to conservation, agricultural research, rural development, and beginning and minority farmers. The cuts are reckless and unjust, threatening economic recovery in rural communities struggling to create jobs, find new markets, and renew economic life.”
The full text of the letter follows:
The undersigned 154 organizations urge you to reject H.R. 1, the Continuing Resolution to fund the government for the remainder of fiscal year 2011, and to support a net freeze in discretionary spending.
In its zeal to cut $60 billion dollars from fiscal year 2010 spending levels during the last 6 months of this fiscal year, the House has unfairly targeted agriculture and rural America for a disproportional share of the proposed cuts, and within agriculture has been particularly unfair to conservation, agricultural research, rural development, and beginning and minority farmers. The cuts are reckless and unjust, threatening economic recovery in rural communities struggling to create jobs, find new markets, and renew economic life.
The House measure would cut a disproportionate $5.2 billion or 22 percent from the combined USDA and FDA budgets, compared to a 6 percent cut for the government overall or 14 percent for non-security spending. Even those numbers mask the size of the actual cut. The House also proposes deep cuts to mandatory conservation and renewable energy funding provided by the 2008 Farm Bill -- a combined $500 million would be cut under the House bill from the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Wetland Reserve Program, and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program. With those cuts included, the total cut to agriculture comes to $5.7 billion or 24.5 percent.
Despite the decision to re-open the 2008 Farm Bill and make cuts to mandatory programs in an appropriations bill, none of the cuts in the House bill are directed at the two the largest federal agricultural spending items -- commodity and crop insurance subsidies. In a year of relatively high farm income, the House has focused its cuts instead upon programs that protect the environment, increase economic opportunity, serve beginning and minority farmers, and ensure proper nutrition for low-income families.
Our nation's response to deficit spending must be evenhanded and equitable. The House has singled out a subset of programs that represent a fraction of the full agriculture budget and that are of particular importance to the sustainable agriculture community. For years we have struggled to achieve a fair share of federal farm spending and have made significant strides forward. H.R. 1 sets back this progress without any comparative evaluation of these programs based on need or effectiveness.
In our view, if cuts must be made then everything must be on the table. Cuts must be fair, equitable and made based on the merits of each program. Cuts to appropriations for USDA and FDA should not be disproportional to others parts of the government. Cuts to mandatory funding and the attendant loss of baseline used to determine future Farm Bill funding should be made by the Agriculture Committee in the context of the next Farm Bill or, if need be, in budget reconciliation. Ultimately, these are decisions that must be made in the context of a broader agreement to find savings in mandatory programs on a government-wide basis.
The House bill would not only make very major cuts in agricultural research and extension, rural development, and domestic and international feeding programs, but would also eliminate funding completely for a number of small programs of great importance to sustainable, organic, beginning and minority farmers. The National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service (ATTRA), Organic Transitions Research Program, Office of Advocacy and Outreach (to coordinate policy and outreach to beginning, women, and minority farmers), and the Office of Tribal Relations program would all be terminated. These are programs that with minimal resources are charged with serving the most chronically underserved segments of agriculture. Slating programs of such small means for termination suggests a motive that has little to do with deficit reduction. We urge the Senate to stand strong against such unjust and discriminatory cuts.
At a time of extremely tight credit markets and increased demand for Farm Services Agency (FSA) farm credit, H.R.1 would cut FSA Direct Operating loans by 10% or $100 million and Direct Farm Ownership loans by 27% or $175 million, and would completely eliminate funding for Conservation Loans. The majority of direct lending is targeted to beginning and minority farmers and ranchers although in these tough times many established farmers have had to turn to FSA direct loans to keep operating. Cuts to such an important source of credit in the countryside will only further delay economic recovery in rural America and we urge you to reject them.
H.R. 1 also cuts several USDA agency administrative budgets more severely than the programs they manage, raising the obvious question of how they could possibly manage and implement the programs with staff cuts of that magnitude. The result is that agencies will find it impossible to do their jobs effectively. We ask you to be more responsible in your efforts to find savings to reduce the deficit.
We urge you to take a more equitable, responsible and measured approach to deficit reduction. Agriculture and rural America should not suffer disproportionally and cuts within agriculture must not unfairly single out programs that serve sustainable, organic, beginning, and minority farmers. No cuts to mandatory farm bill spending should be made unless all mandatory spending is on the table for review and consideration based on need and effectiveness.
Ultimately, we need a comprehensive budget agreement that proceeds in a balanced way to reduce deficits. Until then, we urge you to not agree to a short-term meat ax approach that focuses on just a particular slice of government spending and threatens the economic recovery that might otherwise reduce deficits over the coming years. With just half a fiscal year remaining, a net freeze at the prior year's level would be a significant contribution toward a comprehensive deficit reduction plan.
Thank you for your consideration of our views.
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