Funding included in Congress’s annual omnibus appropriations bill champions family farms, rural housing, and more
Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today announced major investments in Oregon agriculture, rural housing, food assistance, and rural business priorities, which are included in Congress’s fiscal year 2023 omnibus appropriations package. The legislation passed in the Senate and is expected to clear the House of Representatives this week before being signed into law by President Biden.
“As I hold a town hall for each of Oregon’s 36 counties every year, I hear from folks in every corner of the state about what matters most to them, including ensuring our world-class agriculture sector has the support it needs to grow and thrive,” said Merkley, who previously served as the top Democrat on the Appropriations subcommittee that writes the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies bill. “The agriculture bill I championed includes significant investments for family farms, rural housing, food assistance, habitat restoration, and wildfire smoke recovery. The legislation also prioritizes making Oregon’s agriculture more resilient to the impacts of climate chaos to protect the livelihoods of our farmers, ranchers, and producers. These huge investments will benefit farms and families in every corner of the state.”
“Oregon’s family farmers and ranchers have put Oregon on the map as an agriculture powerhouse, all while supporting jobs across the state. This package goes far in helping family farms continue to thrive and meet the challenges of today, like the climate crisis,” said Wyden. “It also puts families front and center, helping to get more folks in rural Oregon housed with food on the table. I will keep fighting to secure similar investments that support all Oregon families and provide opportunities to grow our rural economies.”
Merkley is the only Oregon member of Congress from either chamber since Senator Mark Hatfield to serve on the Appropriations Committee, considered to be one of the most powerful on Capitol Hill. He joined the committee in 2013 so that Oregon would have a strong voice in decisions about the investments our nation should be making.
Key funding for agriculture includes:
Disaster relief: The bill includes $3.7 billion in disaster relief payments for farmers and ranchers who experienced loss due to drought, extreme heat, wildfires, floods, or smoke exposure.
Water Conservation and Habitat Restoration: The bill includes $75 million for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations. This funding used to replace open irrigation ditches with pipes is crucial for irrigation districts that need to improve water efficiency and conservation or otherwise improve fish and wildlife habitat. This program is providing critical funding for the collaborative processes underway across the state working to conserve water and keep Oregon’s family farms in business while improving the habitats of endangered species.
Wine Grape Smoke Exposure Research: The unprecedented wildfire seasons of recent years have blanketed much of the state of Oregon with dense, hazardous smoke, which has significantly impacted Oregon’s wine grape harvest. To better understand the challenges facing Oregon’s wine growers, the bill includes $5 million for research into smoke-impacted grapes at Oregon State University (OSU) and other West Coast universities.
Rural Energy Saving Program: The bill provides $110 million in loan authority for energy efficiency upgrades. The program—which provides funding to rural utilities and other companies to increase energy efficiency—was created by Senator Merkley, who prioritized getting the funding needed to kickstart the program when he was the top Democrat on the Agriculture subcommittee.
Oregon Agricultural Research and Facilities Investment: The Agricultural Research Service is receiving an increase of $111 million in funding for cutting-edge research to improve the productivity, sustainability, and health of the nation’s agricultural systems. In addition, funding was secured for key Oregon agriculture research programs, including funding for research on the Sudden Oak Death pathogen plaguing the south coast. Other research funding victories include research for alfalfa, barley, tree fruits, pear, wheat, hops, hemp, apple, shellfish, small fruits, seaweed, floriculture, nurseries, and rangeland ecology. The bill also includes funding for facilities improvements at the Burns and Pendleton ARS Stations.
Western Rangeland Livestock: The bill includes $1.5 million for the Western Rangeland Precision Livestock center to develop precision-based nutrition strategies for rangeland-based livestock, as well as technology-based rangeland and livestock management strategies to optimize the health and productivity of Western rangeland-based livestock and the rangeland ecosystem. This funding will be split among land grant universities in Oregon, Montana, and Wisconsin.
Rangeland Precision Livestock Management: The bill includes $3 million to promote economically efficient and environmentally responsive livestock production systems for the Western rangeland. The bill supports precision nutrition strategies for rangeland-based livestock as well as technology-based rangeland and livestock management strategies to optimize the health and productivity of Western rangeland ecosystem.
Rural Housing: The bill includes $1.487 billion for rental assistance and $48 million for Rural Housing Service Vouchers, which will help address the urgent housing crisis facing Oregon’s rural communities.
Rural Development: The bill includes funding for a number of USDA’s Rural Development programs, including rural housing and business development programs. These programs make billions of dollars of investments in rural America every year. Total funding for the Rural Development mission area is $4.4 billion, a $401 million increase over fiscal year 2022.
Rural Health: The bill includes critical investments in health care access and delivery in rural areas, including $145 million for the Rural Communities Opioid Response Program and $12.5 million for State Offices of Rural Health, including the Oregon Office of Rural Health. The bill also includes $5 million to establish an Office of Rural Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—language based off Senator Merkley’s Rural Health Equity Act and a priority he led the charge in championing with bipartisan Senate and House colleagues.
Summer Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT): The bill funds the Summer EBT program at $40 million, and also provides for a permanent extension of the program which was set to expire at the end of 2023. This program has provided much-needed nutrition for Oregon families during the summer months when schools are not in session.
Hemp: The bill provides $4 million for Agricultural Research Services to partner with institutions conducting biotech and genomics research to improve hemp genetic research and breeding with new techniques. Hemp has quickly become one of Oregon’s leading cash crops, and indicators suggest it has the potential to bring in more than $1 billion in sales to Oregon in the coming years given a fair and consistent regulatory framework.
For critical community-initiated projects championed by Senators Merkley and Wyden that are receiving funding to support Oregon’s agriculture and rural communities, click HERE.