Weekly Sustainable Ag Policy Update

From the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition CONGRESSIONAL NEWS Update: Pigford Settlement Letter Sent to Senate: On Monday, September 27, the Network of Black Farm Groups and Advocates delivered a letter to all Senators urging "immediate action" regarding the passage of a measure providing funding for the settlement of Pigford vs. Vilsack, a class-action lawsuit filed by Black farmers against USDA more than a decade ago. The current measure, which has been passed by the House, calls for $1.25 billion to fund discrimination claims that were unresolved in the 1999 settlement, known as Pigford I, which paid about $1 billion in claims to 16,000 farmers. Congress Extends FY2010 Spending Levels through December 3: Just before midnight last night, Congress passed a continuing resolution to extend this year's federal spending levels into fiscal year 2011. The continuing resolution will fund federal programs at FY 2010 levels until December 3, 2010.  Upon its return to Washington in November after the elections, the "lame duck" Congress will either pass new FY 2011 appropriations bills or, failing that, another continuing resolution.  Our strong hope is the real bill, with the revised spending levels, will be approved by December 3.  If not, a second continuing resolution would likely extend through February or March of next year. Child Nutrition Reauthorization on Hold until at least November: With the adjournment of Congress late last night, among the pieces of legislation left unresolved is the Child Nutrition reauthorization bill.  The bill inched closer to passage in past weeks, and  the White House continues to urge lawmakers to act - see Politico's recent article on Michelle Obama's involvement - but those watching the progress of the bill will have to wait until the lame duck session of Congress begins November 15th. NSAC continues to support House passage of the Senate version of the bill even though it regrettably pays for part of the $4.5 billion cost of the bill by cutting funds previously reserved a temporary increase in food stamp benefits. Under the Senate version, a temporary increase in food stamp funding would end five months earlier in 2014 than originally planned. Reid Files Cloture on Food Safety Bill: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) signaled his intent late Wednesday night to move the Food Safety Modernization Act forward when Congress returns to session in mid-November. The bill, which has strong bi-partisan support, has been held up for weeks by the objection of one lone Senator, Tom Coburn (R-OK). Reid filed for "cloture," a motion that requires three days to ripen and then 60 votes to cut off debate and bring the measure to a floor vote. The last-minute cloture filing means that the bill could be considered as early as November 17, two days after the start of the "lame duck" post-election session. If the measure is brought to a vote in the Senate, it is likely to pass. However, with so many other prominent issues left for consideration during the short lame duck session, including the defense authorization bill, all of the FY 2011 appropriations bills, extension of unemployment insurance, and a bill to extend some of the Bush tax cuts, the Food Safety Modernization Act will be in a major fight for floor time. Learn about grants, sustainable ag. jobs, and USDA news by clicking READ MORE

USDA NEWS Four RBOG Grants Support Local and Regional Food: On Thursday, September 23, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the recipients of USDA's 2010 Rural Business Opportunity Grants (RBOG), which support regional planning activities to improve economic conditions in rural areas.  Out of 27 total funded projects, the program awarded grants to four projects pertaining to local and regional food system development. USDA Announces 2010 Recipients of Specialty Crop Block Grants: On Friday, September 17th, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Kathleen Merrigan announced the awards made under this year's Specialty Crop Block Grant program.  The grants to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crops are made in all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Guam, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Specialty crops include fruits, vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture, and nursery crops.  Program objectives included marketing and promotion, education, research, food production, food safety, and pest and plant health. The grants, which are administered by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), total approximately $55 million and this year will fund 827 projects. Of the total $55 million in funding for 2010, some 17 percent was retained by State Departments of Agriculture for their own projects and activities, while 82 percent were competitively awarded and 1 percent non-competitively awarded. Vilsack Announces $499 Million in Nationwide Community Facilities Grants: On Wednesday, September 29, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the award of $499 million in grants to a variety of investments in rural community development across the nation.  A total of 280 projects in 44 states, as well as Guam and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, will receive funding. These grants are awarded annually by USDA's Community Facilities Program, which finances crucial community facilities in rural areas in an effort to "improve the economic stability of rural communities, businesses, residents, farmers, and ranchers, and improve the quality of life in rural America." OTHER NEWS Photos: Michelle Obama and UN Spouses Visit Stone Barns Center: First Lady Michelle Obama treated the spouses of world leaders participating in the UN General Assembly to a local, organic luncheon at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, an NSAC member organization.  The 31 "first spouses," representing a diversity of countries including Cameroon, Estonia, Gabon, Norway, Panama and Sierra Leone, enjoyed tours of the farm followed by a luncheon at "Blue Hills at Stone Barns," an award-winning restaurant that sources its food from the Center's farm. USGS Releases National Analysis of Nutrients in Streams and Groundwater: On Thursday, September 23, the USGS National Water-Quality Assessment Program (NAWQA) released a comprehensive national analysis of the occurrence and distribution of nutrients in streams and groundwater based on water-quality data collected from 1992 through 2004. The report indicates that despite major federal, state, and local efforts to control point and non-point sources and transport of nutrients, concentrations of nutrients have remained the same or increased in many streams and aquifers across the nation since the early 1990s, and may pose a threat to human and animal health, particularly in agricultural areas. JOB ANNOUNCEMENTS: NSAC seeks a Policy Associate to advocate before Congress and federal agencies.  Vist the job description on our website. NSAC is seeking a Grassroots Organizer to work on our 2012 Farm Bill campaign.  Visit the job announcement on our website.

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