Senate passes Ag approps bill |

Senate passes Ag approps bill

Senate passes Ag approps bill as part of package

The Senate today passed the fiscal year 2020 Agriculture appropriations bill as part of a package of appropriations bills.

The vote on H.R. 3055 (Commerce, Justice, Science, Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, Interior, Environment, Military Construction, Veterans Affairs, Transportation, and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Act of 2020), as amended was 84–9.

The bill is not expected to become law anytime soon, because House and Senate negotiators have not reached an overall agreement on appropriations for 2020. But the bill is likely to be the subject of negotiations with the House for a conference report at some point.

Several senators noted specific provisions in news releases, and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition criticized the bill.

Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., said “The Agriculture Appropriations legislation provides important support for farmers as they deal with the challenges of trade uncertainty and adverse weather.”

“This legislation will help ensure farmers continue to have access to much-needed risk management tools and capital to keep their operations going while we work with the administration to provide trade and disaster assistance as soon as possible,” Hoeven said. “Further, it advances the implementation of the 2018 farm bill and maintains important investments in agriculture research and rural development.”

Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said the bill includes her amendment to provide $5 million to set up the new Urban Agriculture Office at the USDA, as was authorized in the farm bill.

“By and large, this bipartisan bill rejects the Trump administration’s shortsighted budget proposal and funds critical farm bill and rural development investments,” Stabenow said.

“However, I am deeply disappointed that the bill supports the relocation of USDA research agencies, which has delayed important work that helps our farmers and rural communities. As this bill moves forward, I urge the conference committee to reject this destructive proposal.”

Sens. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Gary Peters, D-Mich., pointed out that the bill includes $310 million, an increase from the current proposed level of $301 million, for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, a program that addresses the health, ecosystem, and water quality in the Great Lakes and helps combat algal blooms, invasive species, and pollution there.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., noted that the bil provides $5 million to study the long-term effects of wildfire smoke on California’s $40 billion wine industry, and look for ways to prevent smoke from damaging grapes as well as $5 billion to fight fires.

Sens. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., noted that the bill provides $3 million for a new grant program to help domestic violence shelters accommodate companion animals.

The program was originally authorized by the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, which was included in the 2018 farm bill, but requires annual funding through congressional appropriations. The House included a lesser amount — $2 million in that chamber’s Agriculture appropriations bill.

“When domestic abuse victims seek shelter and safety, they shouldn’t have to worry if their beloved pet will be abused if left behind — nor should they have to give them up,” McSally said.

“That’s why I pushed to get funding for the PAWS Act into this bill. Now, shelters can receive funds to accommodate abuse survivors and their companion animals who are truly a part of the family. It is great to see strong bipartisan support for my amendment.”

The Senate also included a provision led by McSally and Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., that requires the Justice Department to provide a report detailing enforcement activities of federal criminal animal welfare laws, including the animal fighting law, the horse protection act, and the animal crush video law, which bans depictions of cruelty to animals to satisfy a fetish, Animal Welfare Action pointed out.

“We applaud Sens. McSally and Gillibrand for their leadership in funding the PAWS Act to protect domestic violence victims and their pets,” said Holly Gann, director of federal affairs at Animal Wellness Action and the Animal Wellness Foundation.

“Pets are a significant source of support, and oftentimes, a family member. No one should ever be forced to choose between their own safety and the safety of their pets.”

“We’re grateful to both McSally and Sen. Cory Booker for championing the effort to ensure strong enforcement of existing animal cruelty statutes,“ added Gann. “This sends a strong message to animal fighters that the Congress expects the Justice Department to prosecute animal abusers to the fullest extent of the law.”

National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Senior Policy Specialist Wes King said “While we are glad to see this process move forward and the inclusion of much-needed additional funding for FRSAN [the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network] and the Office of Urban Agriculture, we remain disappointed that other key programs did not receive adequate support.”

“Chief among these, the Value Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program, which saw its entire discretionary budget zeroed out in the Senate package, and the Sustainable Agriculture Research Education (SARE) program, which did not receive the increased investment for which farmers across the country have been calling,” King said.

“We are also disappointed that the Senate did not include any language to prohibit USDA from undermining its own research agencies by uprooting them from their historic home in the capital and moving them to the Kansas City Metro Region.”

King added, “When the Senate and House agriculture appropriations bills are conferenced, we hope to see the House’s provisions for VAPG and SARE included, as well as strong language to protect agricultural research and USDA research scientists.”

–The Hagstrom Report

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