Meeting Americans’ nutrition needs

When the Agriculture-FDA Appropriations subcommittee approved its fiscal 2010 spending bill Thursday, we made a critical commitment to begin meeting our government’s obligation to its citizens: consumers who want safe drugs and food, farmers who rely on fair, functioning markets, children who need healthy food to meet their full potential, and rural communities that need new opportunities to thrive.

We stand at a turning point. This year’s appropriations process takes place at a moment when more American families than ever are living on the brink — struck hard by an economy in chaos, unemployment rising, services shrinking and prices still going up. As Congress makes the hard spending choices for the year ahead, we can never forget the impact its decisions have on people’s everyday lives, now and in the future.

The issues we confront on the Agriculture-FDA Appropriations subcommittee speak to the core responsibilities of the federal government. And, after years of disinvestment, I am encouraged by the commitment the Obama administration has expressed to meet these obligations — from improving our food safety system to expanding broadband service to rural areas from advancing research to strengthening child nutrition programs.

With the economic recovery package we passed this winter, we have already begun to make those investments. I am proud of the resources we secured — $28 billion for the USDA including almost $20 billion to increase Nutrition Assistance. This has meant an additional $80 a month for a family of four — real tangible relief for families in need.

Add to that $100 million for Emergency Food Assistance, and millions more for floodplain easements, direct farm operating loans and direct single-family housing loans — in other words, real relief and real jobs on the ground for some of our most vulnerable communities.

Now with the 2010 spending bill we have the opportunity to build on the foundation we have laid in several key areas including: protecting public health, supporting conservation, and of course, improving nutrition for more Americans.

First, when it comes to public health, the American people must be able to depend on the system and the people in charge of protecting them. The Food and Drug Administration’s first responsibility is to the American people — to ensure the safety of the food they eat, the drugs they take, and the medical devices they rely on.

The 2010 spending bill begins to return the FDA to the gold standard it once held, providing a $299 million increase above last year to support a total discretionary funding level of $2.3 billion in discretionary funding. This substantial investment will help the agency reform our broken systems, hire additional inspectors and conduct more domestic and foreign food and medical products inspections.

At the same time the committee also recognizes ongoing demands for cleaner water, reduced soil erosion, and more wildlife habitat. The stewardship of our lands affects us all everyday and will affect our children for years to come. The committee provides a total of $980.3 million, or $72.9 million more than the administration’s request.

To help farmers and ranchers protect the environment and meet their resource management needs, the bill rejects the president’s cuts to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s (NRCS) farm bill conservation programs and other valuable programs, including the Resource Conservation and Development Program and the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program.

Finally, we must address the growing surge in costs and participation for nutrition programs. For many long years, we have failed to act while too many Americans have gone without adequate, healthy food. That must change. And that is why we have invested $7.5 billion for WIC to serve up to an additional 700,000 women, infants, and children and record funding of $180 million for supplemental food for CSFP, an increase of almost $20 million above fiscal year 2009.

The 2010 spending bill brings other critical priorities front and center as well: continuing to strengthen rural America, supporting research, and applying strong oversight to our energy markets. The common thread that ties all of these efforts together is a renewed commitment to investing in our communities and their future — building the framework for recovery and long-term growth.

Ultimately, our appropriations reflect our priorities as a nation. We have big goals and it is the details — the budget we are laying out in committee over the next few weeks — that get us there. We have a responsibility to get it right.

DeLauro is chairwoman of the House Agriculture, Rural Development, FDA and Related Agencies Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.