Though the “farm” bill was just struck down in the House, there are still serious agriculture spending issues that must be addressed. The House is expected to take up the $19.5 billion agriculture appropriations bill soon. This is a prime opportunity for the House to show that it is serious about cutting unnecessary agricultural spending and reducing the national debt.
From the $350 million Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) education program to the $713 million Conservation Technical Assistance program, the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) budget is ripe for the picking.
- National Institute of Food and Agriculture and Agricultural Research Service: $628 million. (For a more detailed breakdown, see the table below.) These are the two large research agencies within the USDA. There is unnecessary overlap of research and duplicative funding between the two, which crowds out more effective private research and is a wasteful use of taxpayer dollars.
- Food Aid: Food for Peace Title II Grants and McGovern–Dole International Food for Education: $1.33 billion. The legal requirements binding foreign assistance programs are inefficient and unnecessarily costly. The responsibilities for these programs can be transferred to the U.S. Agency for International Aid, which can cover the programs with existing development funding and without the legal requirements that burden the program today.
- Various Programs of the Rural Business-Cooperative Service: $92 million. The Rural Business-Cooperative Service directs a significant amount of money to rural businesses and favored activities. The federal government should not play venture capitalist with taxpayer money. Private capital will find its way to worthy rural investments.
- Distance Learning, Telemedicine, and Broadband: $39.9 million. This program provides loans and grants for telecommunication projects in rural areas. These are services best provided by the private sector. The broadband funding is unnecessary given USDA’s already massive spending on broadband expansion, which has come under scrutiny due to possible mismanagement of funds.
- Marketing Services: $69 million. Marketing Services, which is part of the Agricultural Marketing Service, provide marketing promotion programs and news services and runs the USDA’s “check-off” programs that serve as taxes on agriculture producers to promote industry. These programs are all services that private industry should and would do on its own without the government. Inspection and standardization funding would not be cut.
- Agricultural Credit Insurance Fund: $390 million. The Agricultural Credit Insurance Fund provides direct loans to farmers who may not qualify for credit through other institutions. The federal government should not gamble taxpayer money on poor credit risks.
- SNAP Nutrition Education: $350 million. The SNAP Nutrition Education program teaches food stamp recipient families about healthy food choices. The USDA does not need a special program to tell low-income families how to eat, and there are already other nutrition education programs. In many respects, such a special program is an insult to low-income individuals, because it treats them as if they are less capable than others to figure out what is healthy and what is not.
- Conservation Technical Assistance: $713 million. This costly program gives technical assistance to property owners about maintaining private land, enhancing recreational opportunities, and improving the aesthetic character of private land. Private landowners are the best stewards of their land, not the government, and they can seek technical assistance if they need it. They certainly do not need help about how to make their land look pretty.
- Obamacare’s Nutrition Labeling at Chain Restaurants. One provision in Obamacare mandates “calorie labeling on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, retail food establishments, and vending machines with 20 or more locations.” If consumers demand this information, restaurants will meet that demand on their own without a government mandate. In addition, the Food and Drug Administration has taken an excessively broad interpretation of the relevant provisions in Obamacare to cover grocery stores and other establishments that are not remotely like restaurants. Industry estimates that this rule would cost more than $1 billion in its first year. The appropriations bill should deny funding for the implementation of this rule.
—Daren Bakst is a Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy and Romina Boccia is Assistant Director of the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.