Today, Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee with jurisdiction over the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), began formal review of the Administration's Fiscal Year 2010 budget request for the USDA and questioned top officials on the proposed funding.
Witnesses included Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Deputy Secretary Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, USDA Budget Officer Scott Steele and USDA Chief Economist Joseph Glauber.
"I have feared for some time that many don't fully appreciate the breadth of USDA's mission or why these investments are important," said Kohl.
"All of us enjoy safer food because of the USDA," Kohl said. "Nearly one in five Americans participate in USDA nutrition programs. USDA research is developing better crops and energy systems whose benefits are widely spread across our society. Rural development programs bring safe drinking water, affordable housing, and essential community facilities to regions that would otherwise almost certainly be overlooked. These are all important tasks that demand thoughtful, deliberative treatment in the appropriations process."
The fiscal year 2010 budget for discretionary USDA programs totals $21.25 billion. This is an increase of $1.9 billion from last year, a gain of nearly ten percent. The budget includes funding for important programs.
· The WIC program receives an increase of $917 million to maintain participation in the nutritional program for women, infants and children.
· The Rental Assistance Program includes an increase of $189 million to prevent a large number of poor rural residents, many elderly, from losing their housing.
· Two important programs for humanitarian food aid, PL 480 and McGovern-Dole, receive increases of $464 million and $100 million, respectively.
These four programs alone make up nearly 90 percent of USDA's total budget increase. Additionally, funding will be directed towards information technology upgrades to improve security of USDA programs, USDA energy programs, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service budget providing for inspections and improvements to their IT system.