By Coleman Garrison
As the days grow shorter, we draw closer to the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2019, when Congress is once again pressed into action to ensure that the federal government remains funded. New appropriations bills are needed to set spending for Fiscal Year 2020, which begins Oct. 1, 2019. Although the process is far from over, things are looking positive with respect to NACD’s priorities.
The House of Representatives launched the appropriations cycle with the passage of several consolidated appropriations bills in June to provide funding for FY2020. However, these bills passed before Congress set the overall spending limit for the federal government. This bipartisan spending framework – or budget resolution – was passed in July, just before the August congressional recess. Unlike the House, the Senate opted to wait until the spending framework passed to begin its appropriations work. The Senate Appropriations Committee didn’t consider its Agriculture Appropriations bill, which funds most USDA activities, until Sept. 17. The Senate has yet to consider an Interior-Environment Appropriations bill, which would fund activities at the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and 319 grants at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Because of this slow progress, Congress must now pass a short term spending bill called a Continuing Resolution (CR) in order to avoid a lapse in federal funding, which will occur on Oct. 1. The House passed such a measure on Sept. 19, to provide funding through Nov. 21, 2019. This would give each chamber additional time to work toward a long-term spending measure to fund the federal government for the duration of FY2020. Although NACD is concerned with the effects that short-term spending bills will have on operations at these agencies, this is a far better outcome than a government shutdown.
We are optimistic that conservation programs supported by NACD will receive strong investments going into FY2020, thanks to the strong advocacy by NACD’s members across the country at both the grassroots level and during NACD’s annual Spring Fly-in.
NACD is encouraged by the support that our priority programs are proposed to receive. The Conservation Operations (CO) account, which includes the Conservation Technical Assistance (CTA) program at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), would receive $830 million in FY2020 based on the bill passed by the House earlier this year. This is an increase of more than $10 million over the FY2019 enacted level. In its draft bill, the Senate has proposed funding for the CO account at $835 million, an additional $5 million over the already increased House level. CTA provides funds for staffing at local offices and technical assistance for landowners. The CTA program is the lifeblood of conservation at the local level, and it is encouraging to see increased support of the program, as well as the work being done at NRCS.
Additionally, within the Agriculture Appropriations bills, there are increased levels of funding for the Watershed Operations and Watershed Rehab programs. The House provided $155 million and $12 million respectively, which are both increases over FY2019, while the Senate has proposed funding $175 million for the Watershed Operations program. This continued investment after several years of no funding will continue to generate water quality and erosion control benefits.
While the Senate has yet to act on its Interior-Environment Appropriations bill, the House’s proposal provides strong support for programs at the USFS and the EPA. The State and Private Forestry (S&PF) program would receive $382 million in FY2020, a $66 million increase from FY2019. Within this account, the House proposes an increase to $25 million for the Forest Stewardship program. At the EPA, the 319 grant programs would receive a bump from $170.9 million to $175 million. While the Senate has not yet proposed levels for these programs, NACD is hopeful that it will follow suit by matching this increased investment in natural resource conservation.
Based on these proposed figures, we are optimistic that conservation programs supported by NACD will receive strong investments going into FY2020, thanks to the strong advocacy by NACD’s members across the country at both the grassroots level and during NACD’s annual Spring Fly-in. However, Congress must take the time afforded by a CR to work toward a full FY2020 spending bill. Congress should avoid additional short term CRs, because we know from past experience that these CRs are difficult on the agencies they fund, and that they have led to government shutdowns in the past.