CHICAGO President Donald Trump has proposed halting funding for rural clean water initiatives and reducing county-level staff, for a 21 percent drop in discretionary spending at the Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to a White House budget document.The $4.7 billion in cuts would leave USDA with a budget of $17.9 billion after cutting some statistical and rural business services and encouraging private sector conservation planning. Farm groups warned that farmers and rural communities could suffer.The budget proposal would save $498 million by eliminating a rural water and wastewater loan and grant program that helps fund clean water and sewer systems in communities with fewer than 10,000 people.Other areas targeted for cuts include staffing at county-level USDA service centers.The American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), the country’s largest organization representing farmers, said cuts to statistical services could hurt members.”That’s a big concern because a lot of farmers and growers rely on USDA’s statistical capabilities to make a lot of marketing and risk management decisions and planting decisions,” said John Newton, AFBF director of market intelligence.The budget proposal did not give details of which services could be cut.Greg Fogel, policy director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said cuts to rural development work could harm businesses in rural areas as these programs had created jobs and helped businesses survive.The White House also said it would eliminate the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, which donates U.S. agricultural commodities to food-deficit countries. The program, which had $182 million earmarked in the fiscal-year 2017 USDA budget, “lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity,” the document said.The plans for USDA spending were part of Trump’s budget blueprint, a broad outline of spending proposals for the fiscal year ahead.The blueprint does not cover “mandatory” spending established by law, like farm subsidies, only “discretionary” programs where lawmakers can adjust spending.The Trump White House has said it plans to release a traditional full budget in mid-May.The budget plan calls for $6.2 billion for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, about $150 million less than budgeted in fiscal 2016. Under former President Barack Obama, the program was reduced by $273 million between fiscal 2015 and 2016.The USDA oversees agriculture, rural communities and nutritional programs, including funding for school lunches. The agency also publishes closely watched global farming production statistics.
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