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Bush proposes increase for USDA

The Bush administration is recommending a 5 percent increase in spending for USDA in the new fiscal year beginning next October with the majority of the hike going to programs for combating bioterrorism and conserving natural resources.

The president's fiscal 2005 budget calls for $82 billion to be spent on USDA programs, an increase of $4 billion over fiscal 2004. Spending on discretionary programs, the ones in which funding is not mandated by Congress, would be set at $20.8 billion, $720 million (3 percent) less than the current year.

“The president's budget is fiscally responsible and focuses resources to meet our strategic goals,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. “The agriculture budget provides funds to protect America's food supply and agriculture systems, improve nutrition and health, conserve and enhance our natural resources and enhance economic opportunities for agricultural producers.”

Budget documents released with the fiscal 2005 budget blueprint put the projected fiscal 2004 budget deficit at $521 billion — $44 billion above an earlier estimate of $477 billion by the Congressional Budget Office. The fiscal 2003 budget deficit was $375 billion, a record.

The forecast is expected to bring more pressure from conservative congressmen to reduce spending on budget categories such as federal commodity programs.

Among the highlights of the proposed USDA budget for 2005:

  • Homeland security and protecting the food supply: Veneman said the 2005 budget funds an interagency initiative to improve the federal government's capability to rapidly identify and characterize a bioterrorist attack.

    “This initiative will improve national surveillance capabilities in human health, food, agriculture and environmental monitoring,” the secretary said in a statement released with the budget.

    “The USDA budget proposal includes $381 million for a Food and Agriculture Defense Initiative to: enhance monitoring and surveillance of pests and diseases in plants and animals; conduct research on emerging animal diseases; increase the availability of vaccines; establish a system to track select disease agents of plants; expand the unified Federal-State Diagnostic Network to all 50 states; and complete the National Centers for Animal Health in Ames, Iowa, which is the largest single item under this USDA initiative, at $178 million.”

    It also increases funding for the Food Safety and Inspection Service to a program level of $952 million, an increase of $61 million over the fiscal 2004 level. This represents an increase of $170 million, or 22 percent, in these food safety programs since fiscal 2001. The $952 million for FSIS comprises $828 million in appropriated funds and continuation of existing user fees, as well as new fees for inspection services provided beyond an approved inspection shift.

    Funding for FSIS will support 7,690 food safety inspectors. It will also provide specialized training for the inspection workforce, increase microbiological testing and sampling, strengthen foreign surveillance programs and increase public education efforts.

  • Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy: In addition to funding to complete the National Centers for Animal Health, which is USDA's flagship research and diagnostic laboratory, the budget significantly increases funding for other BSE-related activities.

    To further enhance its systems, the budget request for fiscal 2005 proposes $60 million, including: $5 million for USDA's Agricultural Research Service to conduct advanced research and development of BSE testing technologies; $17 million for our Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service to continue collecting 40,000 samples to test for BSE; $33 million to accelerate the development of a National Animal Identification system; $1 million for the Grain Inspection, Packers, and Stockyards Administration to enable rapid-response teams to deal with BSE-related complaints in the cattle market regarding contracts or lack of prompt payment; and $4 million for the Food Safety and Inspection Service to conduct monitoring and surveillance of compliance with the regulations for specified risk materials and advanced meat recovery.

  • Farm bill conservation funding: Veneman said USDA has worked hard to implement the 2002 farm bill quickly and efficiently. Funds are provided in the budget to support continued implementation of the farm bill and represent an “unprecedented investment in conservation that will have significant and long-lasting environmental benefits.”

    Total program level funding for farm bill conservation programs increases from about $2.2 billion in fiscal 2001 to $3.9 billion in the fiscal 2005 budget proposal. This is an increase of $385 million, or almost 11 percent over 2004.

  • Expanded programs include: $2 billion for the Conservation Reserve Program (up $76 million), $1 billion for the EQIP program (up $25 million), $295 million for the Wetlands Reserve Program to enroll an additional 200,000 acres, $125 million for the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program (up $13 million).

    In addition, it includes $421 million for the Grassland Reserve Program, Ground and Surface Water Conservation, the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program, the new Conservation Security Program and water conservation and water quality enhancements in the Klamath Basin of Oregon and California.

  • Food and nutrition safety net: The fiscal 2005 budget also reflects a continued commitment to nutrition and fighting hunger by including a record of $47.9 billion for domestic food assistance programs, a $2.5 billion increase over fiscal 2004. The food and nutrition budget supports: an estimated 24.9 million food stamp participants; a record level of 7.9 million low-income, nutritionally at risk, WIC participants; and an average of 29 million school children each day in the school lunch program.

    The budget also includes a $3 billion contingency reserve for food stamps, and a $125 million contingency reserve for WIC, to be available to cover unanticipated increases in participation in these programs.

  • Agricultural trade and international food assistance programs: “One of the most important ways to expand opportunities for American agriculture is through trade, by maintaining and opening markets for U.S. products,” said Veneman. “The fiscal 2005 budget continues a strong commitment to export promotion and foreign market development efforts by providing a program level of $6.6 billion for the department's international programs.

    Since 2001, these programs have experienced significant growth, increasing by $1.4 billion, or 27 percent. Funding for USDA's market development programs, including the Market Access and Cooperator Programs are maintained at current-year levels. A program level of $4.5 billion is provided for Commodity Credit Corp. export credit guarantee activities.

    At the same time, the efficiency and productivity of American farmers has allowed the United States to lead the world in global food aid. More than $1.5 billion is requested for U.S. foreign food-assistance activities, including $75 million for the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program, a 50 percent increase over fiscal 2004.

    Healthy forests: The fiscal 2005 budget proposes $5.2 billion for programs of the USDA Forest Service. “In recent years, the country has seen the increasing risk of wildfires that devastate forests and watersheds, habitats and wildlife and property and human lives,” said Veneman.

    “The fiscal 2005 budget continues implementation of the Healthy Forests Initiative including funding the Healthy Forests Restoration Act. This will result in improved forest and rangeland management, healthier landscapes and reduced risk of catastrophic fire.”

    The budget maintains funding for priority activities and is faithful to commitments made to increase efforts to fight wildfires, reduce the risk of fire and assist communities including: $266 million for hazardous fuels reduction, an $8 million increase above the 2004 level; $666 million for preparedness; and $686 million for suppression activities which provides funding at the 10-year average adjusted for inflation.

  • Improving departmental services and systems: The budget supports the department's strategic plan and continued efforts to implement the President's Management Agenda, which focuses on improving performance and results in government. Part of this includes several management initiatives to better integrate computer systems and technology.

    The 2005 budget will allow USDA to build on progress in management priorities by providing resources needed to improve customer service through continued modernization of technology. This includes $137 million in fiscal 2005, an increase of $18 million to upgrade technology in county office service centers. By increasing customers' ability to interact with USDA staff over the Internet, time and money can be saved. The budget proposal also strengthens the security of the department's facilities and information technology.

  • Civil rights: The budget also increases funds to focus on efforts to strengthen civil rights and equal treatment under USDA programs. The fiscal 2005 budget proposes $22 million for USDA's Office of Civil Rights, an increase of $4 million over fiscal 2004. This includes an increase of $2 million to process complaints in a more timely manner and an increase of $1 million to improve tracking and analysis of civil rights complaints.

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