Ag Policy Blog

Senator: Hurricane Disaster Relief May Require Some Ag Offsets

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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The third disaster request from the Trump administration for hurricane aid totaled $44 billion and this time included suggested budget offsets. Some $3 billion in cuts for agriculture spending were offered as part of $59.23 billion in cuts to domestic programs to help pay for the aid.

Most of the programs were already singled out for cuts in the Trump administration’s fiscal 2018 budget proposal including rural business loans, upgrades to federal research facilities. Some details include:

$3.9 billion from the Pell Grant surplus,

$212 million from the Agricultural Research Service's building and facilities account,

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$800 million from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children
$204 million in emergency conservation funds,

$1.4 billion in unobligated balances for mandatory conservation programs, which includes money set aside for future agreements under the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

Sen Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said Tuesday it is possible those cuts could happen, and may be necessary just because of the nature of the disasters involved.

"We're an insurer of last resort," Grassley said. "Sometimes this is given without offsets and sometimes this is given with offsets, and I'm going to support it either way. Obviously, where the money comes from is of very concern to me and I wouldn't be concerned just because it is coming from agriculture. I would look at all places it comes from and reach a decision based on the merits of taking money from one program to help disaster victims. But No. 1 on my mind is going to be helping disaster victims on the theory of government being the insurer of last resort."

Northey Remains on Hold

Sen. Ted Cruz's hold continues on the nomination of Iowan Bill Northey to be USDA's undersecretary for farm programs. Grassley said he and Sen. Joni Ernst had spoken with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about it because Cruz is unwilling to budge.

"Consulting with Cruz hasn't done much good," Grassley said. "Ernst and I had a conversation with the Leader on the importance of getting Northey approved, not for the sake of getting Northey approved, but because his position is so importnant when it comes to the farm bill. We need him in place. From that standpoint, McConnell said he would help us move it along. How he does that, I don't know. But Leader McConnell has the capability of doing it and hopefully he will follow through."

Grassley said he and Ernst gave McConnell a timeframe of getting Northey to a floor vote as soon after Nov. 30 as possible.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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