Pennsylvania House Rejects Animal Health Funding Plan | Livestock News

Pennsylvania Democrats defeated a plan Tuesday to shift money from food assistance to animal health.

The 100-101 vote on a budget amendment signaled the relative importance of Democratic and GOP priorities, but it isn’t the final word on the funding.

Rep. Dan Moul, R-Adams, proposed moving $6 million — Ag Department spending increases proposed by Gov. Josh Shapiro — to fund the Animal Health and Diagnostic Commission.

The commission was created in 1988 in response to an outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the state five years earlier.

The commission advises the department on animal health matters and supports the Pennsylvania Animal Diagnostic Laboratory System, which links the veterinary labs at Penn State, the University of Pennsylvania and the state Department of Agriculture.

The lab system’s rapid testing of samples from sick birds has been crucial to the state’s response to avian influenza, which returned to the state last April. The disease has cost Pennsylvania 4.6 million birds. Shapiro’s budget proposal zeroes out the supplemental line item for the commission.

In Moul’s proposal, the Ag Department’s general operations and the centers of ag excellence would remain at current-year spending instead of getting an increase. And the $2 million for the Fresh Food Financing Initiative would have been zeroed out.

Cuts were necessary in this case because amendments to the budget bill must be revenue-neutral.

“We can find money later on for these new initiatives that are being proposed in the governor’s budget, but this brings that money back to where it belongs so we can continue to have good, safe, healthy food in Pennsylvania,” said Moul, the top Republican on the Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee.

Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia and chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he appreciated the needs of the livestock industry, but he would not defund the fresh food program, which expands food access in low-income communities. The initiative was developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We would be cutting $2 million that helps support the lowest, most economically disadvantaged communities in the commonwealth,” Harris said.

In a March budget hearing, Ag Secretary Russell Redding said he was open to an increase in the animal health budget above the governor’s proposal.

When Shapiro took office in January, Redding’s initial goal was getting the new governor to support a $34 million extension of last year’s avian influenza recovery fund. That large amount of money would give the state flexibility to respond to the disaster.

“The opportunity we have now is to talk about what else do we need inside animal health,” Redding said. “The core funding is there. The supplemental funding is what’s been zeroed out. But we should talk about what those needs are.”

The funding for the Animal Health and Diagnostic Commission could still be restored in closed-door negotiations, which is typically how state budgets are hammered out.

Shapiro’s proposed budget would provide a net increase in ag spending of $4.8 million, including boosts to the ag programs at Penn State and Penn. The budget is due by June 30.

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