June 28, 2021

Washington Roundup - June 2021 - By Lowell Randel

Washington Roundup – June 2021

House Subcommittee Approves FY 22 Agriculture Appropriations Bill

On June 25th, the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee met to consider its version of agriculture appropriations for fiscal year 2022.  The subcommittee approved the bill on a voice vote and it now goes to the full committee for action.  House leadership has stated its goal of securing full House approval of appropriations bills before the end of July.

The agriculture appropriations bill provides discretionary funding of $26.55 billion, which is $2.851 billion above 2021. In total, the bill includes $196.7 billion for both discretionary and mandatory programs.  During the subcommittee meeting, Chairman Sanford Bishop (D-GA) highlighted three priority areas for the legislation.  First, the bill provides nearly $400 million in investments solely to ensure equitable participation in USDA programs, more than 16% higher than the administration’s impressive request.  Among those investments are increases at 1890 and 1994 land grant universities, and Hispanic serving institutions. Second, the bill provides nearly $350 million to address the impacts of climate change, including support for research to monitor, measure and mitigate climate change, accelerate climate smart agriculture practices, reduce greenhouse gases, and advance clean energy technologies.  Third, it fully funds federal pay costs and rebuilds the leadership offices at USDA that have been decimated over the past several years.   These changes are designed to ensure that program levels are not reduced by having to absorb pay costs and that they are properly managed.

The bill provides $3.324 billion – $226.5 million above the FY 2021 enacted level – for agriculture research programs, including the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).  ARS research would be funded at $1.637 billion, with $70 million specified to address climate change.  ARS buildings and facilities are slated to receive $126.5 million, of which $20 million shall be allocated for ARS facilities co-located with university partners, and $46.7 million shall be ‘‘Community Project Funding”, the new process for Congressional directed earmarks.  The remainder of Community Project Funding in the bill is dedicated to Rural Development programs.

For NIFA, $1.06 billion is provided for research and education programs (including $35 million for climate change research), $553.5 million for extension activities and $40 million for integrated activities.  The bill language does not provide many details about specific program levels, but the subcommittee has indicated that the funding provided includes important research investments in U.S. land-grant colleges and universities, including a significant increase for the 1890 institutions, and for the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative.  The bill does specify that the Agricultural Genome to Phenome Initiative would receive $2 million in FY 22, up from $1 million in FY 21.  More details on individual NIFA accounts will be available once the committee report is published in conjunction with full committee consideration.

Bipartisan Legislation Introduced to Address Shortfall in Rural Veterinarians

On June 24th, Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) introduced bipartisan legislation to address the shortfall of veterinarians in rural areas. The Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program Enhancement Act is intended to help meet the growing demand for veterinarians nationwide by eliminating taxes on programs that encourage veterinarians to practice in underserved areas.  The bipartisan bill would provide incentives for veterinarians to practice in underserved areas, where quality veterinary care is needed to ensure healthy livestock and a safe food supply.

Congress originally established the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) in 2003 to assist food animal and public health veterinarians with student loan repayment for a three-year commitment to practice in areas of the country facing a veterinarian shortage. The program helps veterinarians pay down their student loan debt so that they can afford to start a practice where it is most needed.  However, the VMLRP is currently subject to a significant federal withholding tax on the assistance provided to qualifying veterinarians. This limits the resources available for the program, as well as the reach of its benefits.  The Stabenow-Crapo legislation will address this by providing an exemption from the federal income withholding tax for payments received under the VMLRP and similar state programs, helping give more veterinarians the opportunity to practice in small, rural communities where their services are needed.