USDA chief expresses ‘deep concern’ about nutrition cuts in US House of Representatives GOP farm bill

WASHINGTON – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack sharply criticized the farm bill written by House Republicans during a call with reporters Wednesday, saying it would hurt the coalition that has traditionally rallied behind farm bills and “raises the real possibility of not being able to start a farm.” billing throughout the entire process.”

The massive five-year legislation regulating agricultural, food, commodity and conservation programs is scheduled for a raise Thursday morning in the House Agriculture Committee, headed by Chairman Glenn “GT” Thompson, a Republican from Pennsylvania.

This has already appeared was heading for a fight with the proposal going to the Democrat-controlled Senate amid disagreements over anti-hunger and environmental protection programs. Additionally, the bill, which must be passed, faces a House with a slim 217-213 GOP majority.

Vilsack expressed frustration that work on the $1.5 trillion measure has been delayed by eight months and expressed “deep concerns” about proposed package released by Thompson last week. Last year, lawmakers vying for spending and the House speakership passed an extension of the 2018 Farm Bill, which expires on September 30.

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

“But I’m concerned that we’re dealing with a situation where the proposal that’s been put forward by the House of Representatives, the Republican members of the Agriculture Committee, is not actually intended to create a right-of-way… I think that, unfortunately, it was designed, on a path to impasse , which will cause further delay.”

Nutrition cuts, disaster programs

Vilsack said he opposes legislation that would reduce spending for 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 total $30 billion over 10 years, the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities he estimated. Vilsack estimated the figure at $27 billion.

“It was clear that there was a coalition in the past that was critical to passing the farm bill and that understood the importance of addressing food programs and agricultural programs,” Vilsack said. “Fundamentally, this is a crack in the coalition that is absolutely necessary to pass a farm bill… The fact that we’re crossing the red line increases the real risk that we won’t get a farm bill through this process.”

He said he also has a problem with the portion of the House bill relating to the Commodity Credit Corporation, which runs various farm programs.

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

“There is no certainty that such bills will be adopted,” Vilsack said. “Second, Congress has often underfunded these bills, as was the case recently with the 2023 emergency.”

He said Thompson proposes “essentially eliminating the ability of the Secretary of Agriculture to use the CCC in the face of, for example, a market-disrupting natural disaster.” He also stated that, in his opinion, the bill overestimated the savings that could be achieved.

Vilsack said he preferred it proposed farm bill proposed Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, calling it “more practical” and “feasible.” Stabenow, who released a summary of her bill but did not release its text, would expand eligibility for nutrition programs like SNAP, among other changes.

The chairman defends the proposal

Thompson, in a statement after the phone call, rejected Vilsack’s comments and said his bill makes “historic investments” in agriculture.

“It is clear from this eleventh-hour push that the Secretary is determined to use every penny made available to him by the lending authorities to bypass Congress if left unchecked,” he said. “The Committee reaffirms Congress’s authority over the Commodity Credit Corporation, which will take control of reckless administrative spending and provide funding for key bipartisan priorities in the Farm Bill.

“The sudden rancor over the use of CCC as a means of payment is nothing more than the latest partisan attempt to divide our committee and slow progress in passing the farm bill.”

Commission in Press release Numerous statements of praise for Thompson’s proposal were also listed 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 the group’s various commodity and trade organizations.

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