Trump’s proposed cuts to USDA could have dramatic impact on Arkansas farmers and rural communities

by George Jared ([email protected]) 1,206 views 

President Donald Trump’s proposed $4.1 trillion budget includes deep cuts to the United States Department of Agriculture, and Arkansas farmers could feel the squeeze.

Trump’s budget would cut USDA discretionary spending by $4.7 billion to $17.9 billion in 2018, a 21% drop from this year, according to figures released. Farm crop insurance, research, international food aid programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, and others could be slashed if his budget is approved.

U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, praised elements of the budget proposal including increases to defense spending and cuts to the overall budget by $4.5 trillion during the next 10 years. However, the four-term congressman said the budget has to be modified because the impacts to farmers and rural communities could be dire without changes.

“The severe cuts to USDA programs don’t fully consider the current state of rural economies and the significant savings already generated by the last farm bill. As the House of Representatives builds upon the administration’s budget blueprint, I will work with my colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee to advocate for producers and other programs vitally important to rural economies and a safe, reliable food source in the United States,” Crawford said in a statement.

Talk Business & Politics attempted to reach Crawford for further clarification on Tuesday night by email and phone, but those attempts were unsuccessful.

When asked by a reporter if the budget was dead on arrival, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, said bluntly “yes.”

The Federal Crop Insurance Program protects farmers from losses caused by drought, floods, pest infestation, other natural disasters, and low market prices, according to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). Farmers can choose various amounts and types of insurance protection. Farmers can insure against losses caused by poor crop yields, low crop prices, or both. The USDA sets premium rates for federal crop insurance so that the premiums equal the expected payments to farmers for crop losses.

Of total premiums, the federal government pays 60% on average and farmers pay about 40%, according to the CBO. Insurance policies purchased through the program are sold and serviced by private insurance companies, which are reimbursed by the federal government for their administrative costs. The federal government reinsures those private insurance companies by agreeing to cover some of the losses when total payouts exceed total premiums.

It’s estimated that the federal government doles out more than $8 billion per year into the crop insurance program, and the budget proposal would cut it by about 36%. Grain growers could be the most affected. Crawford’s district is the leading rice growing region in the country.

SNAP, or the nation’s food stamp program offers nutrition assistance to an estimated 44 million low income individuals and families, according to the federal government. SNAP is the largest program in the domestic hunger safety net. SNAP costs about $70 billion per year and is funded through the USDA.

Trump’s budget would cut SNAP by $191 billion over 10 years. Republicans have argued for years the government spends too much money on the program and too many abled-bodied participants are receiving these benefits unnecessarily. Food Policy Action, an organization that advocates on national food policy legislation, opposes cuts to SNAP.

“The President has proposed a radical and extreme cut to one of the most successful and efficient nutrition programs in America. Over 40 million Americans depend on SNAP to put food on the table every month and a 25% cut means millions of them would simply not have enough to eat. Americans don’t support a slash and burn approach to food stamps — in fact, by huge margins they think SNAP benefits should be increased, not radically cut,” according to a press release by FPA.

Arkansas has more than 600,000 residents in the SNAP program, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. When this budget will be considered by Congress was not immediately known.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told USDA employees in a filmed segment no matter what budget is ultimately passed, the department can expect deep cuts. As many as 5,000 USDA employees could lose their jobs. Field offices could be closed and rural water and sewer loan and grant programs could be cut or eliminated.

“I don’t think there’s any reason to try to sugar coat this. I’ve communicated with our team at USDA and just said ‘look, when times are tough, we just dig down and do more’ — and that’s what we will do here,” Perdue said.