While most of the nation was focused Monday on President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal, key food aid and farm lobbyists were highlighting the potential impact of the House Republicans’ proposed 2011 budget cuts on hungry people around the world and on American farmers.
The House starts debate Tuesday on a package of about $60 billion in cuts for the remainder of the 2011 fiscal year. The budget battle still has a tough row to hoe, however, because the Democratic-controlled Senate opposes the cuts.
If the budget cuts proposed by House Republicans go into effect, nearly 18 million hungry people worldwide will lose American food aid and farmers will lose benefits guaranteed to them under the 2008 farm bill. Lobbyists are firing up campaigns to try to stop the cuts in either the House or the Senate.
The federal government is operating under a continuing resolution in effect until March 4, and Congress needs to pass a new spending bill by that date. This 2011 proposal, which was announced Friday and would cover the period until the end of the fiscal year on Sept. 30, is unrelated to the budget proposal for fiscal year 2012 that President Obama announced Monday.
Of that $60 billion cut, $5.2 billion would come from the agriculture function, and there would be additional cuts to food aid in the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development budgets. The agriculture budget cut includes a $747 million reduction in the special nutrition program for Women, Infants and Children known as WIC, but the impact of that cut is unclear because the birth rate is down.
The House is expected to act on its proposal by the end of this week, but the Senate may move so slowly that there may be another continuing resolution before Congress passes a final bill to fund the government through Sept. 30.
Ellen Levinson, executive director of the Alliance for Global Food Security, a coalition of humanitarian and industry groups that deliver food aid, said the Republican proposal would cut U.S. international food assistance to its lowest levels in a decade, dropping the food aid budget 42 percent or $800 million from its fiscal year 2010 level.
“Cutting food aid is particularly devastating now, because food prices have soared to their highest levels in decades, and low-income, food-deficit countries are struggling with growing hunger and unrest,” Levinson said.
U.S. food aid now reaches 50 million people per year, she said. The House proposal would cut 15 million people from the Food for Peace Program, which targets communities where there is persistent hunger and 30 percent or more children are undernourished. It would also cut 2.5 million children from the McGovern-Dole Food for Education Program, Levinson said.
U.S. farm groups and shipping companies have formed a coalition with humanitarian groups to include food aid in the farm bill and other legislation. The impact of an $800 million reduction in government food aid purchases on the commodity markets is unknown.
Meanwhile, Ferd Hoefner, the Washington lobbyist for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said in a blog post for his members Saturday that the cut proposed in agriculture would be “enormous.” Hoefner noted that, while the budget resolution focuses mostly on discretionary spending, it includes more than $500 million in cuts to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Wetlands Reserve Program, and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program.
“Such adjustments to the farm bill should be made by the Agriculture committees and only in the context of a broad agreement to find savings in mandatory programs on a government-wide basis,” Hoefner stated.
Hoefner added that the House bill would eliminate (“zero out” in budget jargon) many sustainable agriculture programs, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service, Organic Transitions research program, the USDA Office of Advocacy and Outreach (for minority and beginning farmers), the USDA Office of Tribal Relations, Farm Service Agency conservation loans, the Resource Conservation and Development program, the regional integrated pest management centers, the regional Rural Development Centers, the National Integrated Food Safety Initiative, and the Hunger Free Communities program.
Hoefner also noted that the bill’s provision to limit the Conservation Stewardship Program by $39 million would force the government to break the terms of the five-year contracts already signed with farmers in 2009 and 2010 by delaying contract payments.
“Reneging on contracts already in effect would truly represent government at its very worst,” Hoefner said.
DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton contributed to this report.
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at email@example.com
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