Last week, House Democrats cut a deal with Republicans in a private, closed-door meeting: In order to get a new round of funding for COVID aid, they agreed to take back unspent COVID funds. The problem? According to our source in a key legislative office, the deal takes money away from resilient food system and food security programs at USDA.
Just how big was this money grab? The $1.65 billion is nearly 5% of USDA’s total programs and operations budget. These funds were targeted for rural development and food security programs — including the Competitive Food Systems Infrastructure Fund, the Healthy Food Financing Initiative, and Regional Food Business Centers, which supports technical assistance to farms — and would have made transformational changes to our food system.
Why would Congress take funding back from programs that keep people fed — funding they granted just last year? The COVID-19 pandemic showed just how fragile our current global food system is, and it’s not like anything has changed.
This money grab is particularly hard to swallow when you consider that we’re on the brink of an international food crisis, food inflation is already up 20%, and farmers are probably looking at yet another year of negative income. Congress needs to understand that the programs they’re stealing from are every bit as important to keep people safe and healthy.
A Roll Call story said that the House is working on this new COVID relief bill, and that the White House is throwing all their weight behind it. The White House didn’t specify how it should be funded and said they’d “let lawmakers figure out the details.” Those “details” are in fact billions of dollars we need to revitalize our food system and rural economies.
Not surprisingly, this “deal” was done behind closed doors while they thought no one was looking. But we were looking, and we are hoping you will take a look as well. We will reach out to our supporters with a special Action Alert at the first opportunity to engage.