Chairman Bishop Statement at Hearing on FY 2020 Agriculture Department Budget Request

2019-04-09 11:00

Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (D-GA), Chair of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the fiscal year 2020 budget request for the Department of Agriculture:

The Subcommittee will come to order. 

Good morning and welcome to today’s hearing on the Department of Agriculture’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget. 

I am pleased to introduce our witness, Secretary Perdue. The Secretary and I have a decades-long relationship.  He has a deep commitment to our farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. 

Before we begin, I want to say that we need to get a supplemental disaster bill through Congress.  I know the Secretary shares my sense of urgency about this.  The House passed its bill in January and we are ready to go to conference with the Senate as soon as it passes a bill.  I know all House members are also committed to ensuring the areas of the Midwest that were hit with monumental floods just a few weeks ago have the funds they need.

Twenty-six of the 29 counties that I represent are rural, with average populations of between 10,000 to 15,000 people. These counties are some of the most economically disadvantaged counties in the nation.  They face immense challenges in healthcare, nutrition, rural housing and utilities, broadband, and economic development.

As Chairman, I am intensely focused on rural development. I believe that the zip code in which a child is born should not prevent them from realizing their full potential.

The administration’s Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity correctly recognized five key indicators of rural prosperity: E-Connectivity, Quality of Life, Rural Workforce, Technological Innovation, and Economic Development.

But unfortunately, once again, the Administration has put forward a woefully underfunded budget request that fails agricultural communities and rural America.  Many of the short-sighted proposals contained in the request have been submitted by the Department before and will be rejected by the subcommittee once again.  I am somewhat surprised that the fiscal year 2020 budget request is essentially a carbon copy of the past few years.  The Department submits this at a time when the agricultural and rural economies face significant challenges.  

This budget comes to Congress with a reduction of over $4.2 billion, or 21 percent, in discretionary funding from fiscal year 2019 and seeks to re-open the Farm Bill with significant legislative requests to change mandatory programs. The proposed elimination of programs such as Food for Peace, McGovern-Dole, the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, Summer EBT, rural watershed protection programs, and nearly all rural housing loan and grant programs is wholly unacceptable. 

Other programs face drastic cuts. I was extremely disappointed to see that rural broadband funding was cut by $350 million. One of the greatest barriers to entry in the modern economy in rural America is access to adequate broadband. I have children in my district who go to the local library after school or football practice just to access the internet. I find that unacceptable in 2019. 

I was disappointed that the budget cuts agriculture research by over $179 million.  And I was disappointed to see that under this budget there would be significant staffing reductions, specifically in Rural Development and the Farm Service Agency.

There are also, once again many legislative proposals related to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, most of them rejected by Congress in the 2018 farm bill. 

Finally, the proposed relocation of ERS and NIFA.  As the Secretary and my colleagues know, I strongly oppose this, as well as the proposal to move ERS under the Chief Economist.  We will discuss this further today. 

Mr. Secretary, I believe that you are honestly trying to bring positive changes to USDA and we are all always looking for ways to do things more efficiently. My concern is that the administration has not asked for appropriate resources and staffing. I want to ensure that the resources this Committee provides are used as intended.

I also believe that to make rural America a priority you must invest the necessary resources. While this budget falls short, I pledge to do my best to work with you and Ranking Member Fortenberry to develop a bill worthy of all the farmers, ranchers, and rural communities who rely on the services provided by USDA.

So, hopefully the conversation today will provide some insight into the disconnect between the budget proposal submitted by the Department and the economic realities rural America faces. 

Again, I want to thank you for being with us today, and I look forward to today’s discussion.

116th Congress