With the national focus on the widespread impacts of the coronavirus, the normal order of things has been thrown in disarray. Annual appropriations for agricultural programs is no exception.
However, last week the U.S. House of Representatives finalized an important stage of moving forward on planning for agricultural program spending in 2021, and there were several wins for rural communities. While there are no signs yet about when the Senate will move on appropriations, this House bill is a good starting point.
On the top of our list of wins is the $6 million the bill would give to the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP) if it is signed into law. RMAP, which provides loan funds and training for rural entrepreneurs, lost all of its funding in the 2018 farm bill. The Center for Rural Affairs is grateful for the efforts of representatives, such as Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) who championed the program and not only restored its funding in 2019, but doubled it in 2020.
There are several other wins in the bill. These included funding for the Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach program at $5 million, funding of $20 million for the Local Agricultural Markets Program, $37 million for Rural Business Development Grants Program, and Farm Service Agency loan funds level with the Presidents’ budget—all told, billions in direct and guaranteed farm ownership and operating loans. In addition, the legislation proposes no cuts to farm bill conservation programs of the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
The bill includes two disappointments. First, the funding for local Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) offices, called Conservation Technical Assistance, offers crucial conservation planning support to farmers and ranchers. This funding is proposed to be cut slightly, from $735.8 million in 2020 to $732.8 million.
Farmers and ranchers consistently share that a main obstacle to enrolling in conservation programs is local office capacity, so any cuts to this fund should be restored in a final bill. In addition, we requested an increase in the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program, to $50 million, and while the bill doesn’t include the full requested increase, it does include a small increase, from $37 million to $39 million.
Next, the Senate will need to take up their appropriations proposals for these funding levels to advance to a final bill. If a final bill is not passed before Sept. 30, Congress will need to pass what is called a “continuing resolution” to extend previous funding levels for U.S. Department of Agriculture programs to keep functioning.
For more information on the Center’s appropriations priorities, please check out our story map.