Trump budget plan cuts USDA food, rural water funding

CHICAGO, March 16 (Reuters) - President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating an international food aid program, halting funding for clean water initiative in rural areas and reducing county-level staff for a 21 percent drop in discretionary spending at the Agriculture Department, according to a White House budget document.

The proposal would save $498 million by eliminating a rural water and wastewater loan and grant program, which the White House proposal said was duplicative. The program helps fund clean water and sewer systems in communities with less than 10,000 people.

Other USDA areas targeted for cuts to reach the White House’s $17.9 billion discretionary spending budget include its statistical capabilities and staffing at its county-level service centers.

The White House also said it would eliminate the McGovern-Dole International Food for Education program, which provides donations of U.S. agricultural commodities to food-deficit countries. The program, which had $182 million earmarked in the fiscal-year 2017 USDA budget, “lacks evidence that it is being effectively implemented to reduce food insecurity,” the document said.

The plans for spending at the USDA were released as part of Trump’s budget blueprint, a broad outline of spending proposals for the fiscal year ahead.

The blueprint does not cover “mandatory” spending established by law, like farm subsidies, but only addresses “discretionary” programs where lawmakers can adjust spending from year to year.

The Trump White House has said it plans to release a traditional full budget with a 10-year outlook for all government spending and revenues in mid-May.

The budget plan calls for $6.2 billion in funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). That would be about $150 million less than the estimated $6.35 billion the USDA said was budgeted in fiscal 2016. Under former Democratic President Barack Obama, the program was reduced by $273 million between fiscal 2015 and 2016.

The WIC program is designed to help meet the basic nutritional needs of low-income pregnant women, new mothers, infants and children up to age five.

The USDA, founded in 1862 by President Abraham Lincoln, oversees the nation’s agriculture and rural communities, as well as nutritional programs, including funding for school lunches and low-income families. The agency also publishes U.S. and global farming production statistics, which are closely watched. (Reporting by P.J. Huffstutter and Jo Winterbottom in Chicago; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)