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Agriculture Act of 2006: Senate

 

September 20, 2005

United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator:

We write on behalf of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops as the Senate begins consideration of H.R. 2744, the Fiscal Year 2006 Agriculture Appropriations Act, to urge you to ensure that the final bill adequately funds domestic and international food and nutrition programs and conservation programs to preserve our farmlands.

While Congress is working to ensure adequate funding for programs at home, including new measures to address the Katrina disaster, we must not forget or relinquish our responsibility to help those in need abroad. As a nation blessed with great productivity and abundance we can and must do both.

The U.S. must remain a reliable source of food aid to address both chronic and acute hunger in developing countries; therefore we are requesting that you provide no less than $1.35 billion for Title II food aid. This amount includes a $200 million increase from the reported level of $1.15 billion, necessary to maintain our ability to meet critical food and nutrition needs. Without this critical funding, relief organizations like Catholic Relief Services (CRS), the bishops’ overseas development and humanitarian aid agency, will be unable to continue to serve our brothers and sisters in some of the world’s poorest regions. These funds support services that enhance food security by building agriculture, public health and education through partnerships with millions of undernourished people.

For example, CRS’s Title II education and health programs have profoundly benefited women and children in West Africa. In Ghana, school enrollment of girls increased by 66 percent between 1999 and 2003. During that same period, graduation rates among girls increased 86 percent in Burkina Faso. In addition, CRS’s Title II programs have resulted in a measurable impact on child survival in the region. Evidence includes an overall increase in prenatal visits and reports that six out of seven countries saw a 60 percent average increase in vaccination rates in recent years.

Over time, these and other food aid programs will have an enormous, long-term impact on reducing food insecurity and creating hope. Further, when disaster strikes, programs like these help communities retain their productive assets and avoid dependency on emergency assistance. Funding at the essential level of $1.35 billion will also ensure that the U.S. can provide more adequate and timely responses to the expanding food aid emergencies around the world.

We are pleased that the Appropriations Committee included in the bill before you $5.257 billion for the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, sufficient funding to assist those previously projected to be eligible in fiscal year 2006. Of course, these projections were made before the impact of Hurricane Katrina. There will certainly be more pregnant mothers and young children in need of WIC next year than was anticipated. We are very grateful that the Committee has long been attentive to making sure that this program, so crucial to the well-being of pregnant mothers and young children, receives the funding it needs as changing circumstances require adjustments to previous projections. We urge the Senate to approve 2006 funding for WIC at least at the level called for in H.R. 2744, and look forward to working with the Committee and the Senate to make sure sufficient additional funding is provided for WIC and other nutrition programs to meet the increased need in 2006 due to Katrina.

The U.S. bishops have also made protecting God’s creation a central goal for U.S. agricultural policies. We applaud the Senate Committee’s proposed funding levels for the Conservation Security Program and the Farmland Protection Program. However, we are very concerned that the bill does not sufficiently fund other important conservation programs. This lapse will hurt rural communities that need more, not less, support to overcome the devastating effects from Hurricane Katrina.

We have a moral obligation to meet the urgent needs of our brothers and sisters at home and around the world. That requires us to respond robustly to the tragic impact of Hurricane Katrina on the lives of so many in the United States, while continuing to meet our ongoing responsibility to address pressing needs of poverty, hunger and development both here and abroad. Our nation and its people must and will rise to that challenge.

Thank you for your kind consideration and continued leadership.

Sincerely,

Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Ph.D., D.D.
Bishop of Brooklyn
Chairman, Domestic Policy Committee

Most Reverend John H. Ricard, SSJ
Bishop of Tallahassee
Chairman, Committee on International Policy



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