The FY15 budget proposed for USDA, released on March 4, does not include much that was unanticipated.
In his remarks to agricultural groups, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack emphasized the importance of stimulating job creation in the rural economy and noted that for the first time, rural populations are declining.
The budget includes a number of rural development programs to promote rural growth along with numerous proposals that Congress has rejected in the past. These include reductions in some crop insurance premium subsidies, new user fees, and a significant consolidation of Farm Service Agency (FSA) county offices once the new farm law is fully implemented.
Specifically, the administration is proposing a reduction of $14.2 billion over 10 years in payments to crop insurance companies and premium subsidies for farmers.
The proposal also includes “consolidating” 250 FSA county offices. Secretary Vilsack said there are 31 offices with no full-time employees and others that have only one or two employees. He said the proposed consolidation would not begin until ’15 after the farm bill has been fully implemented. He indicated it may be appropriate for the offices to deliver more than just farm programs in the future.
The proposed Federal Budget for FY15 is largely irrelevant because Congress will work from the two-year budget agreement reached last year and the chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee has announced that the Committee will not attempt to produce a budget for FY15. That means the majority of decisions about funding priorities for agencies and discretionary programs will be made by the Appropriations Committees.
In the past, those committees have shown very little interest in FSA consolidation, cuts in crop insurance or the imposition of new user fees.
In his comments to farm group representatives, Secretary Vilsack emphasized that USDA faces the challenge of using limited resources to implement the farm bill, reduce the rate of population decline in rural America, help areas with the highest levels of poverty and address climate change. The USDA budget includes several initiatives in the area of climate change by proposing to establish Climate Change Hubs to assess regional challenges and focus USDA agencies on ways to “adapt and mitigate.” The budget also includes a new initiative to improve pollinator health.
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