Last week Congress passed a bill that will fund the government through the rest of this fiscal year, averting a government shutdown. The current funding bill expires next week, just as Congress is set to take a week-long break. Time to debate options has essentially run out.
The need for USDA to furlough meat inspectors was avoided bill described above allowing USDA to shift funds around with some “discretion.”
USDA had previously announced plans to furlough meat inspectors one day per week over the last three months of the fiscal year unless the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) got additional money. Such a move would have forced 6,300 food inspection facilities to be closed on the days when no inspector was available, which would impact industry workers and meat supplies around the country, at an estimated cost of up to $10 billion to the economy.
Despite the budget stopgap, Republicans and Democrats can't agree on long-term budget solutions.
House budget plan targets food stamps for much bigger cuts. Released last week, the plan trims the federal budget deficit by $4.6 trillion over 10-years according to supporters, with cuts of around $130 billion to $150 billion coming out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – also called food stamps).
There are estimates that the House bill would also cut an estimated $31 billion from commodity and crop insurance programs and $18 billion from conservation programs; a total of $49 billion. For perspective, last year’s House Ag Committee farm bill had USDA cuts totaling just $35 billion, including the cuts for SNAP. At least in the near term, there is little chance that the Senate will go along with such large cuts to SNAP.
Senate plan has far more modest cuts in total USDA funding. At least at this early point in the budget process, the Senate appears to be sticking with agriculture department cuts totaling $23 billion (including SNAP) over 10 years.
That’s essentially the same amount of cuts in the plan passed by the Senate last year, but then later reduced by about $10 billion. It’s important we note that so far, the spending cuts sought in both the Senate and the House budget proposals are just “general” savings objectives. The actual impacts on individual farm programs are yet to be finalized, and debate will likely be brutal over what gets cut.
Direct payments will be trimmed. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced that the government will have to trim the direct payments to farmers that were set to be paid out this fall under the extension of the old farm bill. In order to comply with the automatic spending cuts required under the sequester, direct payments will be trimmed by $152 million.
About 350,000 farmers receive direct payments under the current farm program extension with total payments near $5 billion.