As part of the Trump Administration goal to balance the budget, the USDA is facing a $24 billion cut for the 2018 fiscal year. Included in those cuts are cuts or elimination to several programs, a closure of 17 of the 90 Agricultural Research Service laboratories, and a reduction of 5,263 USDA employees — a reduction of 5.5 percent of the department’s workforce.
“As governor of Georgia from 2003 through 2011, I managed that state during probably not the best economic times, and I certainly had revenue estimates that I didn’t prefer. But we did whatever it took,” said USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue in a phone conference held on Tuesday, May 23. “I think that really comes from my growing up on a farm. I’ve known the thrill of a bumper crop and the heart break of drought and flood.
“With the dedicated career workforce here in the USDA all over the country, I’m convinced we can continue to serve the American agriculture in a way that makes it profitable and prosperous in rural America. I look forward to doing that, I look forward to working with these employees to make sure we can do all we can with what we have,” Perdue continued.
The preliminary budget totals are all subject to Congressional approval.
Acting Deputy Secretary Mike Young detailed the budgets of the areas within the USDA, as well as the various programs and services. One of the few areas that was fully funded was the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which has a budget of slightly more than $1 billion. The one change to the inspection program would be that the inspection of catfish would be transferred to the Food & Drug Administration.
Young also stated that the budged included a proposal of instituting a fee for domestic meat and poultry inspection. The budget, he added, does allow for the appointment of the Under Secretary for Food Safety, a position that has been vacant since December of 2013.
The Research, Education and Economics area has a proposed discretionary budget of about $2.5 billion, a reduction of $425 million from 2017. There is a reduction of $142 million to the Agricultural Research Service, which would necessitate a closure of 17 of the 90 ARS laboratories in the country.
Young said there is a cut of $7 million to the USDA’s marketing and regulatory programs, with much of that coming from the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service. Cooperators may be asked to provide additional matching funds for animal and plant test programs.
Other programs that would be reduced or eliminated entirely include:
- The International Food Assistance Program, or Food for Peace, which predicts, prevents, and responds to hunger overseas. (eliminated)
- The McGovern-Dole International Food Assistance Program, which provides school meals, teacher training and related support. (eliminated)
- SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), which offers nutrition assistance to eligible, low-income individuals and families. (budget reduced; additionally, proposed legislation would tighten eligibility benefits, limit availability for able-bodied adults without dependents, change methods that are used to calculate heating and cooling costs in the standard utility allowance, eliminate the minimum benefit of $16 per month, charge fees to retailers that participate in redeeming SNAP benefits)
- Water & Waste Loan and Grant Program, which provides funding for drinking water systems, sanitary sewage disposal, sanitary solid waste disposal, and storm water drainage to households and businesses in eligible rural areas. (eliminated)
- Funding for rural business programs (eliminated)
- Direct Single Family Housing Loan Program, which assists low-income applicants in obtaining housing in eligible rural areas (eliminated)
- Funding for new land acquisition by Forest Service (eliminated)
The 2018 USDA Preliminary Budget summary is available for download at https://www.usda.gov/sites/default/files/documents/USDA-Budget-Summary-2018.pdf.