U.S. House Passes Budget: More Money for Firefighting, Head Start, Agriculture

U.S. House Passes Budget: More Money for Firefighting, Head Start, Agriculture

17 January 2014

published by www.magicvalley.com

USA — Wildfire fighting, Head Start and agriculture, all beleaguered for months by sequestration, would see substantially more funding under a budget deal that the U.S. House passed Wednesday by a vote of 359-67.

The Senate is expected to adopt the budget before the weekend.

The sweeping $1.1 trillion package would fund government for the rest of the fiscal year and would roll back dozens of last year’s budget cuts that slashed funding for thousands of social programs.

Head Start, which largely serves underprivileged children, was hit hard. The deal, the first reached on Capital Hill since 2011, would add $1 billion to Head Start programs.

More than 50 slots were eliminated at local Head Start centers because of the sequestration. Mancole Fedder, director of the Head Start program at College of Southern Idaho, said he’s cautiously optimistic.

“We’re in a better place now than we were a year ago when we were facing sequester cuts,” Fedder said.

Head Start took a 5.27 percent cut, according to the National Head Start Association.

The federal program provides educational, health, nutritional and social services to children from low-income families.

The Early Head Start program is for pregnant women, infants and toddlers up to age 3.

South central Idaho has 11 Head Start centers. Three of them offer Early Head Start. In all, 623 children receive services there, including 80 in Early Head Start.

The CSI Head Start program serves 20 to 25 percent of the eligible population, Fedder said.

“We have wait lists in every community we serve,” he said.

On wildland firefighting, insufficient federal money long has sparked concern throughout the West. Idaho was home to the nation’s top three priority fires last summer as infernos consumed more than 728,900 acres, killed more than 100 head of cattle and destroyed nearly 80 homes in Pine and Featherville.

The new bill fully funds wildfire suppression accounts at the 10-year average, providing $3.94 billion for wildfire fighting and prevention programs.

The U.S. Forest Service gets an 11.6 percent budget increase, and the Bureau of Management will get 2 percent more. The bill also fully reimburses agencies for “fire-borrowing” in 2013, when they had to drain non-suppression accounts to pay for wildfire fighting costs that exceeded fire budgets.

“It’s always good to get a little more, especially after all the gloom and doom of recent years. Last I heard, we were going to be cut 8 percent,” said Josh Brinkley, who was a BLM fire operations supervisor and has just taken a job as fire management officer for the U.S. Forest Service based in Fairfield.

Said brother Joe Brinkley, manager of the McCall Smokejumper Base, “It’ll be interesting to see how that stuff is distributed. Only time will tell.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, lauded provisions in the Omnibus Appropriations Act that protect western interests, including money for wildfire suppression and public lands issues.

“There is no doubt that providing adequate funding for wildfire suppression must be a top priority, and I’m pleased that this bill provides full funding for these efforts,” Simpson said in a news release. “As important, however, recognizing the impact that wildfire suppression costs have on agencies’ abilities to restore our forests to a healthier state. Fire borrowing robs the agencies of the resources they need for good forest management, creating a cycle of higher costs and unhealthier forests. This bill attempts to stop that cycle by repaying accounts that were drained during last year’s fire season and rejecting significant proposed cuts to this year’s hazardous fuels budget.”

Agriculture appropriations, meanwhile, would provide $20.9 billion in discretionary funding — $350 million more than in fiscal 2013 — while reducing lower priority programs and rescinding unused funds.

Aaron Johnson, acting state executive director of the Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency in Boise, said he’ll be glad to see the legislation pass without cuts to his agency.

“I’d love to see more funding,” Johnson said, “but in reality, this is a tough time for all economies and businesses. We take what they give us and do the best we can to help producers.”

The bill also contains money required by law for food and nutrition programs within the Department of Agriculture, such as the Women, Infants and Children program, child nutrition programs and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

The budget provides $2.6 billion for agriculture research, $1.5 billion for the FSA for farm, conservation, loan and emergency programs, $2.4 billion for rural development programs, $1 billion for the Food Safety and Inspection Service, $2.6 billion for the Food and Drug Administration, and $1.47 billion for the International Food Program. The bill also supports the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, conservation programs and the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.

The funding package is being lauded as a bipartisan victory. Conservatives can point to flat funding levels for WIC and reductions to meat and poultry inspections as proof that Democrats heard their voices. Frozen budget lines and increased fees would pay for the budget, which actually reduces the federal deficit, reports House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky.

But tea party House Republicans remain critical of the bill. A schism within the House GOP has grown especially contentious since tea party Republicans forced a three-week federal shutdown.

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