Government Funding Bill Has $1.5 billion For Ag Disaster Relief

The disaster funding is a 50% increase from $3.1 billion appropriated in June to help producers hit by hurricanes, wildfires, volcanoes, freezes, and floods.

The House will vote as early as Tuesday on a mammoth government funding bill that allots an additional $1.5 billion for disaster relief for agriculture and rejects the 25% cut in SNAP benefits proposed by President Trump. The disaster funding is a 50% increase from $3.1 billion appropriated in June to help producers hit by hurricanes, wildfires, volcanoes, freezes, and floods.

The new funding allows payments for quality losses due to weather damage, a step that would help sugar beet growers in the Northern Plains, where icy weather interfered with the fall harvest. Aid also will be offered to areas hit hard by drought.

House and Senate appropriators agreed on $67 billion for SNAP for the rest of the fiscal year. “The bill rejects those devastating cuts” proposed by Trump, said a summary issued by Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democratic leader on the Senate Appropriations Committee. “Funding provided for SNAP will fully fund anticipated participation in 2020.”

Trump proposed a $19 billion cut in SNAP for this fiscal year, chiefly by giving poor people a box of canned and nonperishable food, the America’s Harvest Box championed by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, along with restricting eligibility for food stamps. The administration is proceeding separately with three regulations that would reduce SNAP enrollment by 9%.

Lawmakers specified that disaster relief to sugar beet growers would flow through the cooperatives that process the crop. The growers are members of the co-ops.

When Trump signed the disaster bill six months ago, there were concerns of too little money for agriculture. Farmers endured the rainiest spring in a quarter century and were unable to plant millions of acres of corn. With the spending bill, lawmakers followed through on assurances that additional aid would be provided, if needed.

The appropriations bill boosted funding for two food-aid programs that the administration tried to eliminate. The Food for Peace program was given $1.725 billion, an increase of $9 million, and the McGovern-Dole program for school meals received $220 million, an increase of $10 million. The bill deleted House language to block Perdue from moving two USDA research agencies to Kansas City. The relocation was largely completed by early fall.

The bill also included a rider that would label genetically modified salmon. Section 790 says “the acceptable market name of any engineered animal approved prior to the effective date of the National Bioengineered Food Disclosure Standard (February 19, 2019) shall include the words genetically engineered prior to the existing acceptable market name.” The FDA approved the AquAdvantage salmon for human consumption in 2015 and said special GMO labels were not needed. It approved U.S. sales of the salmon last March. Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski responded by saying she would pursue legislation to put genetically engineered on the label.

The AquAdvantage salmon, which contains a transplanted gene so it eats less food and grows faster than other Atlantic salmon, was the first GE animal to win U.S. regulatory approval.

A House summary of the bill is available here.

The text of the government funding bill is available here.

A Leahy summary of the USDA and FDA provisions of the bill is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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