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USDA spending nearly doubles during pandemic

The Agriculture Department will spend nearly $289 billion this fiscal year, almost double its pre-pandemic level of outlays, according to USDA budget data. The increase is due chiefly to coronavirus relief payments to farmers and increases in public nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and school lunch.

SNAP would account for $118 billion of the fiscal 2021 spending by the USDA. Lawmakers temporarily increased benefits by 15 percent through Sept. 30 as a response to high unemployment in the recession that accompanied the pandemic. Guided by Congress, the USDA also expanded eligibility for free school meals. Altogether, public nutrition programs would cost $160 billion, according to USDA’s latest budget summary.

The budget summary also lists $27 billion in outlays by the Commodity Credit Corp, the agency that pays crop subsidies and land stewardship payments. Taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance would cost $8.8 billion, said the budget document.

In contrast, the USDA spent $150 billion in fiscal 2019, which ended a few months before the pandemic swept the country. Outlays jumped to $184 billion in fiscal 2020, which coronavirus payments beginning in May 2020. The budget summary estimated outlays at $289 billion this year and at $219 billion in fiscal 2022, which opens on Oct. 1.

The 2022 USDA budget summary is available here.

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