Bishop statement at subcommittee markup of FY 2019 Agriculture Appropriations bill
Thank you for yielding Mr. Chairman.
As Chairman, you have continued to set a cooperative tone and I want to thank you for that. We’ve all worked very hard with even less time that we had last year to produce this bill.
We were presented with a budget from the administration that would have cut nearly a billion dollars in discretionary funding. Cuts to programs such as McGovern-Dole, Food for Peace, Rural Water and Wastewater Grants, and Loans for Single Family Housing are just not acceptable. I am pleased to see these vital programs were funded, and I am largely satisfied with how the funding levels turned out.
The bill provides $73.2 billion in mandatory funding for SNAP, otherwise known as food stamps. While this is $794 million below last year’s level, it is consistent with current estimates. I understand there may be a bigger fight coming with the Farm Bill, but I was very pleased to see that this bill does not include onerous legislative proposals made by the Administration, such as “harvest boxes.”
WIC is funded at $6 billion, which is slightly above the request level. Based on current estimates, this level should not have any negative impact on the program.
I was also pleased to see that the bill provides $1.5 billion for Food for Peace, and $208 million for McGovern-Dole. Both programs were zeroed out by the President’s request. However, these programs are only at or below their FY 2018 enacted levels. I hope that we will be able to work to increase funding for both as we go through this process.
I am also pleased that we did not abandon rural communities the way the President’s budget request did. This bill makes some extremely important improvements to rural housing, water and broadband programs. I was pleased to see the Distance Learning and Telemedicine and Broadband program was funded at $35M. These grants are helping to spur innovative thinking in how we deliver services to rural America. In some cases, the results are lifesaving!
One of the more pressing issues in both rural and urban areas is the lack of grocery stores. Too many of our citizens live in food deserts and lack access to fresh fruit and vegetables. 19 grocery stores are about to close in Georgia - 9 of them in my district! Alarmingly, 3 counties in my district have no grocery store at all. I believe we need a robust strategy to solve the issue of food deserts in America and I am very supportive of the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, funded partly by this subcommittee. This bill funds it at $1 million, equal to the enacted level. I would like to explore with my colleagues the possibility of increasing that level for this year.
I would also like to see if we can beef up funding for Research at 1890 institutions. Specifically for Centers of Excellence. In 2015, on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the Second Morrill Act of 1890, the USDA announced the establishment of three Centers of Excellence at the 1890 Land Grant Universities. I believe these Centers would be great resources to the agricultural community.
Finally, I noticed that the Cole-Bishop tobacco and deeming language was not included in the subcommittee mark, but presumably will be dealt with at the full committee level. As the co-sponsor on the language with Mr. Cole, and after several years of attempting to get this language passed, we have come to realize that we may need to make some major changes if we are to move forward. Specifically regarding under age use.
E-Vapor products offer the opportunity to transition adult smokers to a safer alternative. On a personal note, I was happy to see that FDA is taking youth tobacco prevention seriously. Last month they announced new enforcement actions and a Youth Tobacco Prevention Plan to stop youth use of, and access to, JUUL and other e-cigarettes.
However, I think we in Congress should dramatically supplement the FDA’s recently announced activities and dramatically expand the FDA and other Federal agencies enforcement authority and prevention activities! In particular, illegal access on the part of minors, including 3rd party and illegal internet sales of vaping equipment and e-cigarettes should be a major target!
And, I look forward to working with you, Mr. Chairman, Ms. Lowey, Ms. DeLauro and others before we go to Full Committee to see if we can find a way to address this issue!
Mr. Chairman, I would I have done some things differently. As always, we have some concerns with legislative and report language that we will have to work through. However, this bill is a good start and these mark-ups represent the first step in a long process for which we have only a limited amount of time. I hope that we can work together to address these issues as we move forward in the appropriations process.
Thank you Mr. Chairman and I yield back.