A first look at President Trump’s USDA budget for 2018

April 10, 2017

Any budget proposal is, by its nature, partisan. However, we will present the facts as we know them in a non-partisan manner, and let you decide if you agree or disagree with the budget proposal. We must keep in mind that President Trump’s budget is merely a proposal. Once the executive branch presents the budget to the U.S. House of Representatives, it is House that determines what will or will not be funded. Of course, any president has some influence over what the Congress does with the proposed budget, especially if the president is of the same party affiliation as the House majority. Any proposed budget reflects the priorities of the submitter of that budget. However, we can be assured that, as the budget wends its way through legislative channels, it will take on the priorities of the legislative branch.

That allocation of limited revenue to programs is how we prioritize what is important to a given administration; this is what makes budgeting a partisan issue. Democrats have different priorities than Republicans, or Libertarians, or even Independents. As the vice chair of the New Hampshire House Finance Committee often says, “For every one of the thousands of lines in the budget, there is an advocate who says, ‘Cut any line you want except this one’. If you listen to every advocate, you would never cut a penny from the budget.”

Now let’s look at the president’s proposed budget and how it affects the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The proposed budget recommends a 21 percent cut to total USDA discretionary line items. It does not propose any cuts to mandatory portions of the USDA budget. So the nutrition title has not been touched; it includes programs such as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), school lunches, and the children’s nutrition program. The president’s full proposal is not scheduled to be released until May. Of course, Congress alone can make changes to mandatory spending, since these changes require amending law to affect that part of the budget. This budget proposal really only affects programs that benefit our farmers, and it is the fact that it affects our farmers that makes it critical for the agriculture legislators in the East. It is important to note here that this budget proposal came from the White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and was not reviewed by the USDA since there was not a confirmation of the nominee at the time. We do not know what impact Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue might have in the proposal’s outcome.

dairy and produce in a grocery store shelf

"Inner City Nutrition" by lazzarello is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The USDA budget is $155 billion, of which $133 billion (85 percent) is mandatory spending for nutrition programs and its administration. That leaves $22.6 billion, which is discretionary and allocated for our farm programs. That number had been higher in past years, but between recent sequestrations and cuts from the last administration, it is down to $22.6 billion. The president’s proposal cuts another $4.7 billion, bringing the discretionary total to $17.9 billion (a 21 percent cut). The only nutrition program in the budget (before any cuts) is WIC. The proposal cuts $150 million from WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), about half of the previous administration cut of $273 million, based on reduced enrollment due to higher employment numbers. The USDA discretionary spending is one-tenth of 1 percent of the total federal budget, and yet the USDA has 4,500 offices across the country and territories, with nearly 100,000 employees spread over 30 different agencies.

So what has been cut in this proposal?  Let’s take a look at what the proposal for the USDA discretionary budget really does based on the information as we have it. “Discretionary spending” includes food safety (meat processing), rural development, conservation, research grants, and international food grants. Cuts do not affect the various insurance programs, such as crop insurance.

  • International food aid: -$200 million
  • Water and waste disposal loans and grants: -$500 million
  • Rural Business Cooperative Service: -$95 million (duplicative)
  • Funding for National Forest Service: no new land purchases
  • Reduced staffing: All levels
  • WIC: -$150 million

In addition, there will be cuts to some statistical services and other areas not yet identified.

While this discussion may be premature considering the many unknowns, we thought it important that we share the information at hand. We will continue to give updates as new data become available. Tthe full budget will be rolled out in May, and our new secretary of agriculture and the Congress will have their go at the budget. It will be debated by the two parties of the House of Representatives.

In August at the CSG-ERC Annual Conference in Uncasville, Connecticut (August 13-16), and in conference calls starting next month, we will also work as a region to develop a regional position on the Farm Bill, currently in negotiations. This will, of course, affect the following budget cycle.

As individual states we are relatively insignificant, but as an 11-state region, we have 87 members in the U.S. House of Representatives, or 20 percent of the total votes. We are not insignificant when we work together.

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