Center encouraged by House appropriations bill

Environment
Farm and Food
Small Business
Small Towns

In recent days, the U.S. House Committee on Appropriations approved a draft bill to fund various government programs in fiscal year 2022. The bill was prepared by the committee’s Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Subcommittee.

If finalized in the appropriations law for 2022, the bill would offer valuable and much-needed support for rural communities.

Earlier this year, the Center for Rural Affairs submitted a set of appropriations requests to members of Congress urging them to fund programs that support rural America. 

Upon review of the bill, we were pleased to see a number of our priorities strongly supported, and encourage additional funding for a number of others. Here’s how our appropriations priorities compare with the bill.

Wins for rural microentrepreneurs and energy 

Most notably, we were thrilled to see support for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) and the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). 

The Center has long fought for RMAP to stay strong and viable, and it is our top appropriations priority. Through the program, direct loans and grants are made available to rural entrepreneurs and microenterprises. 

While the Center suggests funding RMAP at $12 million, we were very encouraged to see strong support at $8 million, which is $2 million more than its funding level in recent years. 

We were also thrilled to see support for REAP, which provides grants and loans to farmers and rural businesses interested in making energy efficiency improvements, including implementation of renewable energy.

The bill lists $30.42 million in funding for REAP. The proposal is a significant increase, given that in recent years, discretionary dollars have not been given to this program’s grants, and loan funding was routinely less than $1 million.

More support encouraged for conservation, rural development 

Our additional appropriations priorities focus on agriculture, conservation, and rural development. While we were encouraged to see support for many of these priorities in the bill, many fell short of our request amounts.

One of our requests was for strong funding for Conservation Technical Assistance, which largely funds Natural Resources Conservation Service staff in providing farmers and ranchers with important tools and expertise. The bill calls for $759.813 million for this subaccount, compared to our request of $1.1 billion. 

Another priority was the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program, the only U.S Department of Agriculture competitive grants research program with a consistent focus on sustainability and farmer-driven research. While we encourage Congress to fund SARE at $60 million, the bill lists $50 million. 

To advance rural development, we also support funding at $45 million for the Rural Business Development Grants Program (RBDG). The bill fell short of this request at $37 million. RBDG spurs economic activity in rural communities by providing new marketing opportunities, training, and resources to small businesses, and stronger support for this program could make a sizable impact. 

Finally, the bill lists appropriations funding for the Rural Cooperative Development Grant Program at the same level as the last fiscal year—$8.8 million. However, our request of $15 million would further advance the program’s efforts to support the creation, development, and improvement of rural cooperative or mutually owned businesses.

Steady support for local agriculture and farm loans 

We were glad to see funding that slightly exceeded our requests for the Local Agriculture Market Program. This program consists of three subprograms that support local and regional food economies. The bill designates $14 million for the Value Added Producer Grant Program; $7.4 million for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program; and $3 million for Agriculture Innovation Centers.

In addition, we know access to appropriate credit is critical for farmers and ranchers, so we were happy to see the bill’s appropriations amounts were similar to our requests.

  • For Direct Farm Ownership Loans, our request was $2.776 billion and the bill lists $2.8 billion
  • For Direct Operating Loans, the bill matched our request of $1.633 billion. 
  • For Guaranteed Farm Ownership Loans, our request was $3.6 billion and the bill lists $3.5 billion. 
  • For Guaranteed Operating Loans, the bill matched our request of $2.118 billion. 

Support for local meat processing

Finally, we were encouraged by included support for local meat processing. The bill provides $2 million reserved for training and apprenticeship programs for small processors. The funding would support regional and local efforts through partnerships with nonprofits, community and junior colleges, vocational schools, and similar organizations. The funds may also go toward apprenticeships for individuals working in small or very small meat packing plants to assure their gainful employment.

Additionally, the bill directs USDA staff to, within 180 days, evaluate the needs of small meatpacking plants and develop recommendations for how to support small and medium-sized plants with capital. The bill also encourages the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to conduct research to identify new value and or markets for hides and rendered products.

To read our thoughts on President Biden’s budget proposal, click here. For our opinion on the Senate appropriations bill, click here.