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USDA chief expresses ‘deep concerns’ about US House of Representatives (GOP) nutrition cuts • Florida Phoenix

WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack strongly criticized a draft farm bill authored by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives during a call with reporters on Wednesday. invoicing through the process.”

The sweeping five-year legislation on agriculture, nutrition, commodity and conservation programs is scheduled for a floor start Thursday morning in the House Agriculture Committee, led by Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

It already appears headed for a clash with a proposal in the Democratic-controlled Senate amid disagreements over anti-hunger and conservation programs. Moreover, the must-pass bill faces a House with a narrow Republican Party majority (217-213).

Vilsack expressed frustration that work on the $1.5 trillion measure has been delayed by eight months and said he has “deep concerns” about the proposed package Thompson released last week. Lawmakers feuding over spending and the Speaker of the House of Representatives last year approved an extension of the 2018 farm bill, which expires on September 30.

“I appreciate that people work hard. I appreciate the fact that they listened to people in rural areas,” said Vilsack, a former governor of Iowa.

“But I’m afraid that what we have is a circumstance where the proposal that’s being proposed by the House of Representatives, the Republican members of the Ag Committee, is not actually designed to not create a transit route…I think it’s unfortunately designed. , for a route that will end up in a deadlock, which will cause further delays.”

Cuts to food, disaster programs

Vilsack said he objects to provisions that would reduce spending on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides food assistance to more than 40 million low-income families.

By limiting future updates to the Thrifty Food Plan, the basis for benefit levels, the bill’s cuts would amount to $30 billion over 10 years, the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates. Vilsack estimated the number at $27 billion.

“It’s clear that historically there has been a coalition that has been central to the passage of the farm bill that understands the importance of addressing the nutrition programs and the agricultural programs,” Vilsack said. “It is essentially a crack in the coalition that is absolutely necessary for the passage of the farm bill. … The fact that we’re crossing that red line raises the real possibility that we won’t be able to get a farm bill in the process.”

He said he also has a problem with a portion of the House bill that deals with the Commodity Credit Corp., which runs several agricultural programs.

The legislation would limit the USDA’s authority to use Section 5 of the CCC, which Vilsack said would tie the agency’s hands in responding to natural disasters that affect farmers and force the USDA to rely on Congress for providing disaster relief.

“There is no guarantee that bills like this will pass,” Vilsack said. “And second, Congress often underfunds these bills, as was recently the case with the 2023 disasters.”

He said Thompson is proposing “essentially eliminating the ability of the Secretary of Agriculture to use the CCC in the event of, for example, a natural disaster that disrupts markets.” He also said he believes the bill overstates the savings to be achieved.

Vilsack said he prefers a proposed farm bill from Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan Democrat, describing it as “more practical” and “doable.” Stabenow, who released a summary of her bill but not the text, would, among other things, expand eligibility for nutrition programs like SNAP.

The chairman defends the proposal

Thompson pushed back on Vilsack’s comments in a statement after the call, saying his bill makes “historic investments” in agriculture.

“It is clear from this eleventh hour that the Secretary is determined to use every cent of the appropriations authority made available to him to circumvent Congress if left unchecked,” he said. “The Committee reaffirms Congress’ authority over the Commodity Credit Corp., which will bring reckless administrative spending under control and provide funding for key bipartisan priorities in the farm bill.

“The sudden resentment over the use of the CCC as currency is nothing more than the latest partisan attempt to divide our committee and delay progress on passing a farm bill.”

The committee also listed several people speaking highly of Thompson’s proposal in a news release Wednesday, including the president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, the CEO of the National Conference of State Legislatures, the CEO of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture, and leaders of several commodity and trading groups.