Ag Policy Blog

Biden's USDA Budget Funds Broadband, Research, Wildfires, WIC

Jerry Hagstrom
By  Jerry Hagstrom , DTN Political Correspondent
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted the USDA discretionary budget proposed by President Joe Biden would expand broadband access, provide more money for agricultural research, extension and outreach programs, address wildfires by providing more money for forest management and increase funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). (DTN file photo)

President Joe Biden on Friday released a fiscal year 2022 discretionary budget request that includes $27.8 billion request for USDA, a $3.8 billion or 16% increase from the 2021 enacted level.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack noted that the discretionary budget would expand broadband access, provide more money for agricultural research, extension and outreach programs, address wildfires by providing more money for forest management and increase funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC).

“The president's budget provides the resources to build back better, stronger, and more resilient and equitably than ever before,” Vilsack said in a news release.

“This is our moment to solve big challenges by acting boldly -- to close the broadband gap facing rural America; to work with farmers, ranchers and producers to transform our nation's food system and build new markets here and abroad; to protect and manage our nation's forests and grasslands from catastrophic wildfires; and to ensure Americans have access to healthy and nutritious food. The president's budget commits to building back better and USDA is at heart of that historic commitment.”

The president's budget request to Congress covers only discretionary spending, not the major Agriculture Department farm subsidy, conservation and nutrition programs, which are considered mandatory funding.

USDA said the budget request would:

- Expand broadband access: “Rural Americans are more than 10 times likelier than urban residents to lack access to quality broadband. The discretionary request provides an increase of $65 million over the 2021 enacted level for the Rural e-Connectivity Program “Reconnect,” which provides grants and loans to deploy broadband to unserved areas.“

“The benefits of high-speed internet will serve as an economic equalizer for rural America and the work of installing broadband will create high-paying union jobs with benefits in rural communities. This investment will build on the Coronavirus Relief Provisions provided in 2020 to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas.”

- Invest in critical research and development capacity for farmers: “American farmers must be able to leverage new technologies to compete in world markets, all while protecting our soil and water.

“The discretionary request provides $4 billion, or nearly $680 million above the 2021 enacted level, for USDA's research, education, and outreach programs. These investments in agricultural research will advance innovation and the application of science-based and data driven agricultural decisions and practices.

“In addition, the discretionary request provides an increase of $161 million above the 2021 enacted level, to support a multi-agency initiative to integrate science-based tools into conservation planning in order to measure, monitor, report, and verify carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction, wildlife stewardship, and other environmental services at the farm level and on Federal lands.”

- Addresses the growing threat from wildfires: The discretionary request provides nearly $1.7 billion for high-priority hazardous fuels and forest resilience projects at a scope and scale to meet the challenge we face, an increase of $476 million over the 2021 enacted level. This funding supports the administration's science-based approach to vegetation management at the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to protect watersheds, wildlife habitat, and the wildland-urban interface.

- Supports a strong nutrition safety net: The 2022 discretionary request provides $6.7 billion, more than $1 billion above the 2021 enacted level, for critical nutrition programs, including the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), to help vulnerable families put healthy food on the table and address racial disparities in maternal and child health outcomes.

The budget request also contains a section titled Partners with Rural America to Grow Rural Economies and Tackle Rural Poverty.

“The discretionary request includes a number of proposals to invest in the assets of rural communities and create opportunity for rural Americans in rural America,” the section says.

“This includes more than $300 million in new investments in the next generation of agriculture and conservation, including support for private lands conservation, renewable energy grants and loans, and the creation of a Civilian Climate Corps to create a new pathway to good-paying jobs in rural America. The discretionary request also supports $6.5 billion in lending to support additional clean energy, energy storage, and transmission projects in rural communities, including communities of color.

The discretionary request also proposes $1.2 billion, an increase of $74 million over the 2021 enacted level, for the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to bolster the capacity of small and regional meat processing establishments and ensure safe food production.

USDA noted that the release today is not the full budget.

In a broader view of the budget, The New York Times said, “The request includes increases in funding to address climate change, along with beefing up education, health research and the Internal Revenue Service.”

The Washington Post said, “The request marks Biden's first-ever proposal for discretionary spending, a precursor to a fuller, annual budget slated later in the spring that will also address programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”

“The president's early blueprint calls for a nearly 16% increase in funding across non-defense domestic programs, reflecting the White House's guiding belief that bigger government -- and spending -- can close the country's persistent economic gaps.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget -- Letter to Sen. Patrick Leahy and Summary of the President's Discretionary Funding Request https://www.whitehouse.gov/…

Office of Management and Budget Releases the President's Fiscal Year 2022 Discretionary Funding Request https://www.whitehouse.gov/…

The New York Times -- Biden Details $1.52 Trillion Spending Request https://www.nytimes.com/…

The Washington Post -- Biden seeks huge funding increases for education, health care and environmental protection in first budget request to Congress https://www.washingtonpost.com/…

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@nationaljournal.com

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport

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