Bill will include $9 million for ag research in Oregon
By JIM ABRAMS
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nutrition, food stamp and dairy aid programs were among the winners as the House on Wednesday, Oct. 7, approved a $121 billion agriculture spending bill for the 2010 budget year.
Reflecting the growing number of people scrambling to get by in tough economic times, the bill provides $58.2 billion for the food stamp program, a jump of $4.3 billion from last year.
Similarly, the federal nutrition program for women, infants and children receives $7.3 billion, up $400 million from 2009 nonemergency levels. Aid to school and child care nutrition programs goes up $1.9 billion to $16.9 billion.
The vote on the bill was 263-162, with much of the opposition coming from Republicans concerned about the spending increases. "Our country is working to scrape its way out of a debilitating recession, and now is not the time to divert our precious resources to massive spending," California Rep. Jerry Lewis, the top Republican on the appropriations committee, said.
But Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., head of the appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, defended the spending. "Our fundamental responsibility as legislators and leaders, to stay nothing of basic morality and fairness, demands that we do everything we can to help Americans suffering right now from poverty and malnutrition."
Rep. David Wu, D-Ore, also defended the bill. "During this economic downturn, it is especially important that we continue our federal investment in the vital agricultural segment of our economy and help support our nation's food system," Wu said.
The bill includes nearly $9 million for agricultural research in Oregon.
The legislation, the result of House-Senate negotiations, now goes to the Senate for a final vote before being sent to the president for his signature.
The bill, which covers federal programs for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, contains two major policy initiatives, one for dairy farmers and the other for imported poultry products from China.
Lawmakers from dairy-producing states succeeded in getting $350 million in aid for milk farmers struggling to cope with falling market prices. That includes $60 million to cover the federal purchase of surplus cheese and other dairy products. The purchased products would go to food banks and other nutrition programs.
The dairy aid proposal was welcomed by lawmakers from the Midwest and Northeast where dairy operations are smaller, but drew claims of unfairness from lawmakers in California, home to much larger dairy farms.
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., after meeting with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack Wednesday, said she was encouraged that the Agriculture Department "is committed to ensuring that these emergency funds are distributed to our dairy producers in a way that is regionally equitable."
Boxer's office said she maintained a "hold" on the spending bill, a legislative move that makes bringing the bill to the Senate floor more difficult, while she clarifies the intent of the measure.
The House also agreed to a Senate proposal to lift a ban on poultry products imported from China conditioned on inspectors certifying that the products meet U.S. safety standards.