Shutdown impacts local agriculture

The House of Representatives passed a bill, 243-183, to reopen the Department of Agriculture—which runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP or food stamps—as well as the Food and Drug Administration.

Meanwhile, the Department of Agriculture will continue providing food stamps to millions of Americans through February, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced.

House Democrats, including Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Jimmy Panetta, are taking action to reopen all government agencies by passing individual, bipartisan appropriations bills.

The partial government shutdown is putting at risk federal food assistance programs, including WIC, school breakfast and lunch programs, The Emergency Food Assistance Program (which funds food banks and food pantries), and SNAP, which ensures that millions of low-income Americans, including pregnant women, children, seniors, people with disabilities, college students and veterans, don’t go hungry.  

In addition, just as the CDC and FDA announced the end of the E. coli outbreak associated with romaine lettuce, and continued searching local farms to pinpoint a cause, furloughed FDA employees were unable to properly inspect food processing facilities.

Panetta said, “We cannot prolong this shut down any longer. We must open up the government immediately so that the federal workers at the FDA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, can get back to protecting consumers and supporting producers.”

In other agriculture news, Lofgren and Sen. Dianne Feinstein introduced legislation to provide legal status to immigrant farm employees in the United States.

The Agricultural Worker Program Act would grant legal “blue card” status to immigrants who have worked in agriculture for at least 100 days during the previous two years.

California Farm Bureau President Jamie Johansson said the bill addresses a critical component of comprehensive immigration reform.

“We’re encouraged by the bill’s introduction in both chambers and appreciate the leadership of our California legislators to begin tackling this issue at the beginning of the new Congress,” Johansson said. “Farm employees and farmers need legislation that addresses legal status for employees and their immediate family members who are in the country now.

“Though this legislation is an important first step, the Farm Bureau supports comprehensive immigration reform that would allow future employees to migrate more easily to and from their home country, as well as to move from farm to farm for employment,” he said.

The agriculture bill approved by the House this month would provide both discretionary and mandatory funding for food and nutrition programs within the USDA. including SNAP, WIC, and Child Nutrition Programs.

SNAP: This bill provides $73.219 billion in mandatory spending for SNAP, which fully funds the program for FY 2019.

WIC: Allocated $6.15 billion in discretionary funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children. This is $400 million above President Donald Trump’s request.

Child Nutrition Programs: Provides $23.184 billion for Child Nutrition Programs, including $30 million for school equipment grants and $28 million for Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer initiatives.

It also provides $2.97 billion in discretionary funding for the FDA, $159 million above the FY 2018 level and $213 million below the President’s request.

This bill includes $3.8 billion for Rural Development, $2 billion above the President’s request.

Water & Electric Infrastructure: This bill provides $1.25 billion for rural water and waste program loans, $800 million for water and waste grants, and more than $6.9 billion for rural electric and telephone infrastructure loans.

Rural Broadband: This bill funds rural broadband loan and grant pilot program at $425 million,which is $175 million below FY 2018 but rejects the President’s proposed elimination of the program.

Rural Housing Loans and Rental Assistance: $24 billion in loan authority for the single family housing guaranteed loan program and $1.331 billion for rental assistance.

This bill includes $879.1 million for conservation operations to help farmers, ranchers and private forest landowners conserve and protect their land. It also includes $150 million for watershed and flood prevention operations that support needed investments to rural communities.

It also includes $1.625 billion for the Farm Service Agency for farm, conservation and emergency loan programs. Importantly, it prohibits the closure of FSA county offices and provides resources for IT improvements and personnel across county offices; and $2.73 billion to support research conducted by the Agricultural Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.   

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