U.S. Senator Herb Kohl today examined federal food safety and nutrition priorities during a Senate hearing on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) budget. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack testified before the Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee, which Kohl chairs, about the department's FY2013 budget proposal. Kohl has worked to cut significant overall funding from the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Bill in previous bills while preserving adequate investments in food safety efforts and critical nutrition programs. USDA oversees significant domestic nutrition and international humanitarian food programs and shares responsibility with the Food and Drug Administration to monitor and inspect domestic and imported meat and poultry.
"Our task is to review all the priorities in the budget and ensure that programs vital to people's health, safety, and livelihoods are adequately funded. We also must make sure tax dollars are spent wisely. We must do more with less," Kohl said during the hearing.
The FY2013 request from USDA is $18.3 billion. That amount includes a request for a $422 million increase for the WIC program for women, infants and children due to higher food and energy costs. The international humanitarian food aid program, PL480, is reduced by $66 million in the USDA's request.
Kohl examined why the USDA anticipates costs to the WIC program growing by $422 million in the next fiscal year. He also explored the USDA's decision to cut humanitarian food assistance and its impact on stability in regions with chronic and acute hunger.
Kohl also addressed the SNAP program and the USDA's request for a $2 billion increase in its contingency fund. Kohl said that the SNAP program provides a crucial safety net for millions of people, and asked Secretary Vilsack to address questions that have been raised about the integrity of the program.
"The Department of Agriculture is broad in scope and affects the lives of every American," Kohl continued. "Now more than ever it is essential that we set the right priorities to ensure the Department is both effective and efficient and serves the American people in the right way."