President Obama this week released much anticipated details of his fiscal year 2014 (FY14) federal budget proposal. Overall, the budget proposes $1.8 trillion in deficit reduction. This includes 215 cuts, consolidations and savings proposals which would save $25 billion in 2014 and $539 billion through 2023.
Specific to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the budget proposal would eliminate direct payments while providing mandatory disaster assistance, saving $29.7 billion over 10 years. The proposal would reduce crop insurance funds by $11.7 billion over 10 years while streamlining efforts for conservation programs would save $1.8 billion over 10 years.
USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) technical assistance would be funded at a total of $1.5 billion for FY14 including discretionary funding of $807.9 million for conservation operations and $695 million for mandatory farm bill technical assistance. The proposed budget would permanently eliminate funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) that exceeds $1.35 billion and would also reduce annual enrollment in the Conservation Stewardship Program to just over 10 million acres.
The budget also reflects support for many of the proposals under consideration for farm bill reauthorization, including the merger of the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program (FRPP), the Wetlands Reserve Program (WRP) and the Grasslands Reserve Program (GRP) into the combined Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP).
The budget also proposes continued collaboration between NRCS, EPA, and other key partners in targeting conservation efforts and also implementing a monitoring framework together with baseline performance data to demonstrate how the focused and coordinated approach can achieve significant improvements in water quality.
Brown, Pingree Introduce Local Food Legislation
Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) introduced legislation this week aimed at improving production of local and organic foods. The Local Food, Farms, and Jobs Act seeks to help farmers by addressing production, aggregation marking and distribution needs. Some of the highlights of the bill include:
- Providing funding to help farmers build the infrastructure—like community kitchens—to process and sell their food locally.
- Require USDA to keep doing traditional seed research, not just on genetically modified seeds.
- Create a new crop insurance program tailored to the needs of diversified and organic farmers who grow a wide variety of crops and cannot easily access traditional crop insurance.
- Break down barriers for schools to purchase local food more easily, and provide schools with a local school credit to purchase local foods.
- Make it easier for food stamp recipients to spend their money at farmers markets by giving the farmers access to technology necessary to accept electronic benefits—that money goes right back into the local economy. The bill includes a pilot program to test smart phone technology to accept food stamp benefits at farmers market.
The bill was first introduced in the 112th Congress and many provisions were included in drafts of the 2012 Farm Bill. Provisions of the legislation are expected to be offered in farm bill debates later this year.
Senate Committee Holds Confirmation Hearing for EPA Administrator Nominee
This week the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held the confirmation hearing on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to be Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). During the hearing, McCarthy was praised for her common-sense approach to protecting public health, and her support from businesses, health officials, environmental organizations, and scientists.
The EPA also received criticisms on regulations ranging from emissions regulation to water quality. McCarthy’s nomination is expected to be approved by the Senate. McCarthy is currently the Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. She previously served as the commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection and as deputy secretary of Operations for the Massachusetts Office of Commonwealth Development.