• The Star Staff

House Ways and Means approves budget proposals to benefit island

By The Star Staff

The Committee on Ways and Means of the U.S. House of Representatives has approved budget proposals for agencies working with agriculture, military construction, veterans and environmental issues in Puerto Rico, Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón said Monday.

The committee recognized the important role of the agricultural sector in the Puerto Rico economy and included language requested by the resident commissioner directing the federal Department of Agriculture (USDA) to present a report on the efforts and personnel of the National Agricultural Statistics Service and the Agricultural Marketing Service in Puerto Rico, which must be submitted no later than 60 days after the enactment of the budget law.

The aforementioned agencies administer programs that collect data for farmers and producers in U.S. jurisdictions and help create national and international marketing opportunities, González Colón said in a written statement.

The resident commissioner also included language directing the USDA Economic Research Service to publish data on agricultural cash receipts, agricultural income and exports for Puerto Rico based on the five-year estimates provided through the Agriculture Census.

Language was also included directing the Agricultural Research Service to the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), the U.S. Forest Service, and the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) and Climate Hubs to work on research that helps Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and the rest of the territories in the management of land and forest resources; improve the viability and sustainability of local food production systems; biology and control of invasive insects, plant diseases, weedy plant species and the development of integrated pest management strategies to control them; advances in molecular biology and bioengineering in agricultural production and human and ecosystem health in tropical and subtropical areas; and the application of precision farming technologies, data and tools to increase profitability.

The Committee recognized the destructive effects caused by the infestation of the coffee berry borer insect, also known as the coffee drill, on coffee production, and the negative impact it has on the farming sector of Puerto Rico. The language required by the commissioner and which was included by the committee directs USDA to allocate the necessary funds for APHIS to design a Hierarchical Environment for Research Modeling of Ecological Systems, known as the Hermes model, to control the prevalence of this pest on the island.

Another of the Committee’s recommendations, and one that benefits Puerto Rico, is to direct the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to include all the territories, including those that receive block grants, in any study it conducts on its Child Nutrition Programs.

The committee also appropriated funds for agriculture suggested by the Committee for fiscal year 2021, the resident commissioner said.

The committee also approved about $1.9 billion for the Nutritional Assistance Program (PAN) of Puerto Rico, which is $1,674,000 more than what was allocated to the island for fiscal year 2020.

During the process of allocations for fiscal year 2020, González Colón was able to include language that provided $6 million for a study on PAN, including an update of the feasibility study of a transition to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) carried out by the Food and Nutrition Service and published in 2010.

The study would indicate the percentage of households that would receive nutritional assistance and what would be the average monthly benefit per household if Puerto Rico participated in the SNAP program.

About $2 million was given to the NIFA Grants for Insular Areas Program, which provides funds to improve agricultural science education in the five territories of the United States and the partner republics of Micronesia, Marshall Islands and Palau.

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