House, Senate Committees Prepare for Week's Ag Appropriations Votes

House, Senate Committees Prepare for Week's Ag Appropriations Votes

Secretary Vilsack says House Committee's plan to allow school lunch waivers hurts progress in providing better meals

Both House and the Senate Appropriations Committees this week are expected to consider funding bills that will set the course for farm services, marketplace oversight and food, animal and nutrition programs, with the House committee beginning discussion Tuesday and the Senate on Thursday.

The House version of the bill totals $20.9 billion in discretionary funding, equal to the 2014 enacted level, a Committee statement said. Including both discretionary and mandatory funding for various nutrition programs, the overall bill totals $142.5 billion.

Secretary Vilsack says House Committee's plan to require school lunch waivers hurts child nutrition progress

"America's farmers and ranchers do their part to put food on our tables, and this bill is Congress' part to ensure the safety, productivity, and success of our agricultural industries," House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky., said in a statement. "In addition, this bill supports a variety of nutrition programs to help address one of our biggest national challenges – making sure that our most vulnerable, including children, do not go hungry."

House appropriations language
The biggest portions of the bill will go to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance ($82.3 billion), Child nutrition programs ($20.5 billion), and Women, Infants and Children nutrition programs ($6.6 billion).

Other top spenders include rural housing loans with $24 billion in loan authority, agricultural research at $2.65 billion and rural development programs at $2.6 billion.

The Farm Service Agency is allotted $1.5 billion, while the Food Safety and Inspection Service is funded at $1 billion and International Food Program funding includes $1.7 billion for overseas food aid.

A key stumbling block for the House Committee's bill could be a provision that would require USDA to establish a process that will allow schools demonstrating an "economic hardship" to seek a temporary waiver from compliance with certain nutrition regulations during the 2014-15 school year.

According to Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack, the new provision could undermine the agency's effort to provide more nutritious foods for kids.

"School nutrition standards are developed by independent experts, over 90% of schools report that they are successfully implementing them, and studies show they are working to help kids be healthier," he said in a statement regarding the appropriations bill.

"USDA has continued to show flexibility in implementing these new standards, and Congress should focus on partnering with USDA, states, schools, and parents to help our kids have access to more healthy food, not less."

The House will begin markup of the bill at 10 a.m. Eastern Tuesday.

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