Some Positive News from Appropriations Process

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Three items of very good news have emerged from the House Appropriations Committee over the past several days.  First, the Committee acted to increase funding for the Agricultural Research Service’ (ARS) Floriculture and Nursery Research Initiative (FNRI) by $500,000!  You may recall that the Trump Administration proposed to eliminate the program. FNRI is a unique research partnership involving ARS, university scientists, and industry, represented by AmericanHort and the Society of American Florists.  It currently provides about $4.6 million in funds annually for research benefiting horticulture.  Next year will be the FNRI’s 20th birthday. 

Secondly, also during consideration of the agriculture spending bill, Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA) offered an amendment that would allow agricultural employers to utilize Section 514 housing for both domestic and H-2A workers where the units are currently unoccupied. Section 514 provides loans to producers to buy, build or improve housing for farm workers but those admitted through H-2A are currently ineligible.

Finally, during consideration of the Homeland Security funding bill, Rep. Newhouse offered an amendment that would allow agricultural operations to hire workers through the H-2A program even if the work is not “temporary or seasonal,” as the law currently requires.  While H-2A is widely considered to be a flawed program, it is the legal labor safety net available to agriculture.  Year-round positions in dairies, mushroom farms, nurseries, and greenhouses have not been able to be filled by H-2A workers, something the amendment seeks to address.  It was adopted by voice vote.  

Whether and when these helpful amendments become law depends on how Congress ultimately acts to fund the government for the new fiscal year that starts October 1. If each spending bill is rolled into an omnibus package, these amendments could survive through the process.  However, if the government is funded through a “continuing resolution” that keeps funding at current levels, these helpful improvements would be deferred, at best.  

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