Miss. Senator Serves on Subcommittee that Crafted FY2024 Agriculture, Rural Development Appropriations Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today reported that a provision she secured in the final FY2024 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill opens the door for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to use unobligated funds to help combat the southern pine beetle infestation in Mississippi.

Hyde-Smith, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, secured language in the appropriations bill that pushes the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to use previously appropriated funds to assist Mississippi landowners impacted by drought and the southern pine beetle through the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP).

“The southern pine beetle toll on Mississippi timber stands, communities, and private property will continue to grow if no action is taken.   Given EFRP covers measures such as tree removal, commercial thinning, and controlled burns, and after learning USDA has more than $125 million in unobligated EFRP funding, I included this report language so the FSA can use previously appropriated funds to expedite emergency assistance to landowners affected by last year’s drought and subsequent beetle infestation,” Hyde-Smith said.

Permanently authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill but subject to the availability of discretionary funds, EFRP provides cost-share assistance to landowners to repair and rehabilitate forestland following natural disasters, including drought and insect infestations. (More information here.)

This EFRP language is Hyde-Smith’s latest action to help the state address southern pine beetle destruction in Mississippi.  Last week, the Senator introduced the Emergency Pine Beetle Response Act (S.3838) to strengthen existing federal programs as well as provide USDA additional authorities to assist private landowners, timber cutting and hauling businesses, and local municipalities in responding to forest-related disasters.

“The final FY2024 Agriculture Appropriations Bill includes important resources to support the future of Mississippi’s all-important agricultural sector, while also supporting rural development through better infrastructure and health outcomes,” Hyde-Smith said.

The FY2024 agriculture appropriations measure was approved as part of a six-bill package that now heads to the President to be signed into law.

Among the items of interest to Mississippi in the FY2024 Agriculture Appropriations Bill:

  • $9.05 million for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to carry out watershed and flood prevention improvements in eight Mississippi watersheds (Tippah, Hinds, Leflore, Chickasaw, Panola, Tallahatchie, Yazoo and Holmes counties).
  • $1 million for the USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) to combat cormorants and other fish-eating birds on Mississippi catfish operations.
  • ***  Hyde-Smith also prevailed in including language that directs the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to continue the catfish inspection program, while successfully fighting off an effort to exempt wild-caught invasive catfish from FSIS inspection.  Such an exemption would have harmed Mississippi catfish operations and have put the United States in violation of World Trade Organization obligations.
  • $731,000 for the Mississippi Rural Health Association to carry out distance learning and telemedicine activities to improve the rural healthcare workforce.  
  • $500,000 for the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and Commerce to continue its Wild Hog Control Program.
  • $17.5 million for Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) surveillance, testing, management and response activities, $12.5 million of which is for state departments of agriculture and wildlife to respond to CWD.
  • $40,000 for APHIS to assist with rabies surveillance in Mississippi.
  • $100.9 million for various research activities carried out by the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) at various Mississippi locations, and in cooperation with Mississippi universities. 
  • $1 million for the Institute of Child Nutrition (ICN) at the University of Mississippi. 
  • Continued funding for the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Cattle Contract Library.
  • $10 million for the Veterinary Services Loan Repayment Program and $4 million for the Veterinary Services Grant Program.
  • $21.8 million for the Rural Development Circuit Rider Program to assist the Mississippi Rural Water Association and other water associations across the country to respond to water system failures.  
  • $3 million for the Delta Health Care Services grant program.
  • The bill prohibits USDA from closing FSA county offices.

The final bill also adds the Secretary of Agriculture to the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) to review agricultural transactions and also requires the notification of CFIUS of agricultural land transactions of national security concern, including purchases made by China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran.

Overall, the FY2024 Agriculture Appropriations Bill adheres to the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 which capped discretionary funding and made other reforms to reduce the budget deficit by roughly $1.5 trillion over the next 10 years.  This legislation reduces funding for 80 programs resulting in almost $1.5 billion in savings.