Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Trump budget for next fiscal year would cut some rural programs, subsidies to higher-income farmers

President Trump's proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 calls for a 16 percent decrease in Department of Agriculture spending. Bryce Oates reports for The Daily Yonder, "While the document is vague about some proposed changes, the budget cuts appear to be targeted primarily at Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits and eligibility, changes to farm subsidies and crop insurance, decreases in conservation spending, and cuts to some Rural Development programs." SNAP, better known as food stamps, accounts for 80 percent of spending in the five-year Farm Bill.

Some of the proposed changes include:
  • Some SNAP recipients would be required to work to keep benefits. The budget also proposes delivering non-perishable foods such as "shelf-stable milk, peanut butter, canned fruits and meats, and cereal" in a box to SNAP recipients, rather than allowing them to choose what foods fit their family at the grocery store, reports Helena B. Evitch of Politico. "The proposal was so out of left field that some anti-hunger advocates initially thought it was a joke."
  • Subsidies would be eliminated for higher-income farmers and "overly generous" crop insurance premiums to farmers and payments made to private sector insurance companies would be reduced. Underwriting gains for insurance companies would be capped at 12 percent.
  • Community Connect, the rural broadband grants program, would maintain $30 million in funding, but broadband development loans would be cut 15 percent to $23 million and the distance learning program would be cut by 10 percent to $24 million.
  • The Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management Agency, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service would be combined into a Farm Production and Conservation office. 
  • Funds are included for the Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs division to help increase agricultural exports.
  • Funds would be reduced for the Economic Research Service by eliminating what the plan calls low-priority research already being conducted in the private sector or nonprofits.
  • Wildfires would be treated like other natural disasters like hurricanes, floods or tornadoes. The rationale: The cost of fighting wildfires last year hit a record $2.4 billion, which meant money had to be taken away from wildfire prevention programs to pay for it. 
  • The Rural Economic Development Loan and Grant Program would be eliminated.
  • Conservation programs would see reduced funding, though the details weren't included in the proposed budget.
  • Interest payments to electric and telecommunications utilities would be eliminated. 
"The Trump administration’s budget proposal appears to be significantly different than what could emerge from the Congressional budget process," Oates reports. "Just last week, the House and Senate agreed to guidelines on a two-year funding package for federal spending that includes increases in both military and domestic spending programs. The size and scope of those budget details will be negotiated by House and Senate appropriators over the next several weeks."

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