Merkley Announces Key Wins for Food and Tobacco Safety, Rural Housing, Oregon Agriculture in Spending Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley announced that the omnibus spending bill expected to pass the Senate and the U.S. House this week contains key wins on food and tobacco safety and rural housing, as well as key provisions that will help farming and ranching communities in Oregon.

As the Ranking Member on the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee, Merkley has worked to help craft the appropriations bill that covers the Food and Drug Administration and U.S. Department of Agriculture, as well as other programs that fall under the subcommittee’s jurisdiction. 

“I joined the Senate Appropriations Committee because Oregon deserves to be represented when we are making the big decisions about how to use our resources as a nation,” said Merkley. “Whether it’s improving our food safety system, investing in programs that help our family farmers and ranchers, protecting our kids from the grips of the tobacco industry, or saving rural housing for low-income families, Oregon is well-served by having a seat at the table. I look forward to continuing to fight for our priorities in my role on the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee.”

Highlights of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee section of the omnibus bill include:

Food Safety Modernization: The bill fully funds implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act, the most significant food safety reform in 70 years. This funding will help ensure that the U.S. meets high food safety standards, helping protect consumers from food-borne diseases, and will also train state and local officials, FDA employees and industry to ensure that food coming in from other countries meets U.S. standards.  

Protecting Kids from Tobacco Addiction: As the Ranking Member of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Merkley has pushed the FDA to do more to protect kids from tobacco addiction, including e-cigarettes. Despite a major push from the tobacco industry and their congressional allies to insert a provision into the bill that would have exempted e-cigarettes and other tobacco products from an FDA safety review, Merkley succeeded in keeping that provision out of the bill. 

Low-Income Housing: Earlier this year, low-income Americans in rural communities across the nation—including in Oregon—risked being kicked out of their homes and apartments because of a funding crisis in USDA Rural Development’s rental assistance program. This bill retroactively fixes the funding crisis that had led to missed payments for housing providers, such as Chrisman Development in Eastern Oregon. It also increases funding for next year by $301 million, to $1.39 billion, to ensure that USDA Rural Development will have the funding they need to renew expiring contracts and keep low-income Americans from being kicked out of their housing.

GMO Labeling: Merkley was successful in beating back a provision that would have prevented states from passing or implementing laws to label GMO foods. Additionally, for FY16, the bill prohibits the FDA from allowing genetically engineered salmon onto the market without first finalizing guidance on how to inform consumers that the salmon is genetically modified.

Energy Savings: The bill contains $8 million for the Rural Energy Savings Program, a program that Merkley worked to create to allow rural homeowners and business owners to obtain low-cost loans for energy efficiency renovations. This funding will support approximately $60 million in loans to complete renovations that will help conserve energy, lower emissions, and save consumers money on their energy bills. 

Agricultural Research: The bill contains a $52 million increase in agricultural research, including maintaining funding for the Columbia Plateau Conservation Research Center in Eastern Oregon, which had been at risk of devastating cuts, and a 10% increase in funding for the Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.

Taking on Hunger: The bill contains a $17 million increase in funding for programs that help alleviate hunger, including $5 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program, which helps support local food banks.

International Food Aid: The bill contains a major increase in international food aid, including $5 million to improve pilot programs for procuring food locally. 

Delivering on Oregon Priorities: Additionally, the bill contains key funding and programs that will help Oregon’s farms, ranches and forest industry succeed:

  • $3.5 million for the ARS Forest Products Lab, which will support Oregon State University’s advanced cutting edge wood research, development, and design.
  • $500,000 for a pollinator study in the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS). 
  • $2 million in the Agriculture Research Service for increased pollinator research.
  • Reinstates the vineyard production survey to gather information essential to long-term production planning for Oregon winemakers.