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Trump's proposed 2018 budget cuts staff, crop insurance, food aid

MarkWilson/GettyImages Trump2018Buget
Copies of President Trump's overview of budget priorities for FY2018, 'America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.' are put on display at the Government Publishing Office (GPO) and the Office of Management and Budget, on March 16, 2017, in Washington, DC.
Proposal is first step in setting budget.

The Trump Administration's proposed 2018 budget reduces the staff at USDA by 5,263 people, eliminates the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, limits crop insurance premium assistance to producers who have adjusted gross income of $500,000 or less and increases the amount spent on cybersecurity.

“President Trump promised he would realign government spending, attempt to eliminate duplication or redundancy, and see that all government agencies are efficiently delivering services to the taxpayers of America.  And that’s exactly what we are going to do at the U.S. Department of Agriculture," Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

Perdue, who was governor of Georgia from 2003 to 2011, not the best economic times, said he did what needed to be done there to get the job done and that's what he will do as the leader of USDA.

The budget, which was crafted by the Office of Management and Budget before Perdue took the reins at USDA, reflects Trump's priorities, said Mike Young, acting deputy secretary at USDA. It is consistent with the administration's overall effort to reduce the budget deficit within a 10-year period.

Here's a closer look:

The 2018 discretionary budget request is $21 billion, which is $4.8 billion below 2017. Some technical adjustments bring that total down to a net level of $18 billion, explained Young during a May 23 conference call with reporters. Funding for mandatory programs is estimated at $116 billion, about $7 billion below 2017.

About 82% of USDA's budget is for mandatory programs, which includes crop insurance, nutrition assistance programs, farm commodity and trade programs and conservation programs. The remaining 18% is for discretionary programs, including WIC, food safety, rural development, research and education, animal and plant health and international marketing assistance.

The proposed budget makes big changes to the crop insurance program, cutting $28.8 billion over 10 years. The budget focuses benefits on producers who have adjusted gross income of $500,000 or less, limits insurance premium subsidies to any one individual or entity to $40,000 and eliminates the subsidy for harvest price revenue coverage.

All new signing incentive payments and practice incentive payments on newly enrolled CRP acreage will be eliminated under the proposal, except for acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. The Regional Conservation Partnership Program would be eliminated. No new acres would be allowed into the Conservation Stewardship Program. The private sector also assumes a greater role in conservation planning. In total, cuts are $5.6 billion over 10 years.

Several changes are proposed for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. In total, the proposed changes, which include targeting benefits and encouraging work, are projected to save $75.1 billion over 10 years. A state match for SNAP benefit payments, and fees for retailers accepting SNAP benefits will also be instituted.

User fees will be instituted to cover meat, poultry inspection and animal welfare requirements. There will also be fees for grain standardization and to offset the cost of biotechnology and veterinary biologic regulation. USDA will retain $4.5 million in user fees annually and use that money to manage communications facilities on Forest Service land.

The budget proposal eliminates the Rural Business-Cooperative Service, the Water and Wastewater direct loan and grant program and the Single Family Housing Direct Loan program. It eliminates funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the Rural Energy for America Program, the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education Program, the Foreign Market Development Program, the Market Access Program, the Food for Peace program (PL480) and the Specialty Crop Block Grant program. According to The Hill, the proposed budget eliminates 66 federal programs, saving $26.7 billion.

Find USDA's budget document here.

Trump's proposal is the opening round in budget negotiations. The House and Senate will weigh in with their priorities before they pass their own budgets.

“We’re aware that Congress—not the president—passes the budget, and agriculture has rebuffed attacks on farm and food programs for years," said Ron Moore, ASA president and a soybean farmer from Roseville, Ill. "The danger is that the extreme and ill-informed cuts in this document will embolden those in Congress who lack any understanding of how these programs combine to protect the food and farm supply chain for all Americans.”

Here's what some groups are saying about Trump's proposal:

“By shredding our farm safety net, slashing critical agricultural research and conservation initiatives, and hobbling our access to foreign markets, this budget is a blueprint for how to make already difficult times in rural America even worse,” said ASA's Moore.

A positive note in the budget welcomed by Moore was progress on regulatory reform and infrastructure investment. “We are encouraged by the promise of reducing burdensome regulations and permitting processes, as well as the recognition of the need for infrastructure investments, including inland waterways and ports,” he said.

“We support the Trump administration’s goal of achieving 3% economic growth for our nation," said Agriculture Committee Chairmen Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Rep. K. Michael Conaway, R-Texas, in a joint statement. "As we debate the budget and the next farm bill, we will fight to ensure farmers have a strong safety net so this key segment of our economy can weather current hard times and continue to provide all Americans with safe, affordable food. Also, as a part of farm bill discussions, we need to take a look at our nutrition assistance programs to ensure that they are helping the most vulnerable in our society.”

"Weakening crop insurance and making it more difficult for farmers to bounce back during tough times will jeopardize rural jobs and will find little support in rural America or on Capitol Hill," the American Association of Crop Insurers, Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau, Crop Insurance Professionals Association, Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, National Association of Professional Insurance Agents and National Crop Insurance Services said in a joint statement. "The rural economy is already suffering through a period of low prices and a multitude of spring weather disasters. Yet, the administration's budget proposal targets the primary tool farmers use to handle these risks. Destructive cuts to crop insurance have been proposed by past administrations and soundly rejected by Congressional leaders, who recognize the importance of maintaining a strong farm safety net. We fully expect that to be the case again this year, and we are hopeful to engage in meaningful dialogue about how to support America's hardworking farmers and ranchers in difficult times like these."

“The time and place to debate farm bill programs is during the farm bill reauthorization, not the annual budget process," the National Corn Growers Association said in a statement. "The farm bill represents a 5-year commitment to America’s farmers and ranchers, which Congress made in 2014. We are counting on Congress to honor that commitment, and reject cuts that would be harmful for rural America. These proposed budget cuts would hurt farmers’ ability to manage risk, grow their revenues, and farm more sustainably.  We urge Congress to honor the commitment they made to rural America when they reauthorized the farm bill in 2014. We hope to engage in a meaningful dialogue about how we can support America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities through these challenging economic times.”

“The American Farm Bureau Federation and its members are concerned about the federal budget deficit," said American Farm Bureau president Zippy Duvall in a statement. "However, we also know that agriculture has done its fair share to help reduce the deficit. Going back to the early 1980s, agriculture often has been targeted to generate budget savings, from the reconciliation bills in the late 1980s and 1990s to farm bill reforms as recently as 2014. At the time of passage, the 2014 farm bill was estimated to contribute $23 billion to deficit reduction over 10 years. The farm bill was the only reauthorization bill that voluntarily offered savings during the 113th Congress. It is difficult to think of another sector of the economy that has contributed so much, so consistently, over the last several decades. Clearly, this budget fails agriculture and rural America."

“These are the wrong proposals at the wrong time for the wheat farmers we represent,” said U.S. Wheat Associates president Alan Tracy. “Agriculture is truly a global industry and export demand determines the prices U.S. wheat farmers receive. Without funding from MAP and FMD, we would not be able to continue the training, technical assistance and service that is needed to promote this incredibly complex food crop. Our competitors would swoop in to take those markets and the potential effect on wheat prices is obvious.”

“We are very concerned that the president’s budget calls for privatizing conservation planning,” NACD President Brent Van Dyke said. “The need for conservation assistance is so immense across the country, it will take every dollar from both the public and the private sectors to get the job done.”

“The president’s budget demonstrates President Trump’s lack of understanding and prioritization of the struggles of rural communities,” said Center for Rural Affairs Policy Associate Anna Johnson. “Although President Trump won the presidency with broad support from rural voters, his budget proposes to zero out several programs that address the challenges of rural communities. Proposed cuts include reducing or eliminating support for rural small businesses and entrepreneurs and compromising anti-poverty programs that lead to healthy families.”

Source: Senate Agriculture Committee, National Crop Insurance Services, ASA, NCGA, AFBF, U.S. Wheat Associates, NACD, Center for Rural Affairs

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