User fees remain a point of contention

by Jay Sjerven
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Associations ask administration to seek higher appropriations for food safety in F.Y. 2017.

Even as members of Congress were returning to their offices following the August recess to attend to such pressing matters as passing appropriations bills to fund government activities in fiscal year 2016, which begins Oct. 1, 66 food and agriculture organizations wrote a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell and Office of Management and Budget Director Shaun Donovan asking they request adequate fiscal 2017 funding levels to finance food safety initiatives instead of continuing to propose user fees that Congress has rejected repeatedly.

“As you develop the president’s fiscal year 2017 budget request, we respectfully ask that you request adequate funding for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (F.D.A.) food safety activities as one of your highest priorities rather than proposing new user fees on consumers and food makers,” the letter stated.

The associations acknowledged the F.D.A. will require additional funds in fiscal year 2017 to support food inspection activities and meet the upcoming implementation deadlines of the F.D.A. Food Safety Modernization Act (F.S.M.A.). They said the administration should seek all such funding through the congressional budget and appropriations process rather than asking for authorization of new regulatory taxes. They noted the Obama administration’s proposed fiscal year 2016 budget for the F.D.A. included a proposal to impose a food facility registration and inspection fees to fund agency activities related to F.S.M.A. They pointed out Congress has rejected such fees each time they have been proposed.

“As you know, F.D.A.’s budget request for fiscal years 2015, 2014, 2013 and 2012 recommended raising substantial new revenue from new facility registration fees to help fund the agency’s food safety activities,” the letter stated. “Congress rejected those proposals. Congress also considered and failed to adopt food facility registration fees during its consideration and passage of F.S.M.A. in 2011.”

The associations affirmed maintaining the safety of the foods they produce and sell is the highest priority of food makers and retailers and should be considered a national priority.

“Federal food safety programs and inspections conducted by F.D.A. benefit all American consumers and should be funded through appropriated funds,” they asserted.

“As consumers continue to cope with a period of prolonged economic recovery and food makers and retailers struggle with fluctuating commodity prices, the creation of new food taxes or regulatory fees would mean higher costs for food makers and lead to higher retail food prices for the most vulnerable consumers,” the letter continued. “As such, we believe imposing new regulatory taxes on food makers is the wrong option for funding food safety programs.”

The American Bakers Association, one of the signatories of the letter, noted if food safety user fees were enacted, the annual cost for each bakery in the United States would be around $186,000.

Meanwhile, Congress faces the task of passing a federal budget for fiscal year 2016. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would provide the F.D.A. an additional $45 million (from fiscal year 2015 funding levels) to implement the new F.S.M.A. rules. The House bill would provide a $41.5 million increase for that purpose. The Obama administration requested an increase of $109 million from fiscal 2015 funding but proposed much of it be raised through facility registration fees.

The debate on the budget will be contentious. Democrats were seeking higher spending limits, and some Republicans threatened to shut down the government if Planned Parenthood wasn’t defunded. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell asserted there would be no government shutdown.

There are only 12 legislative days in September. With so much to be done in so little time, the Alliance for a Stronger F.D.A., an organization seeking greater funding to support the medical and food safety activities of the agency, suggested the most likely scenario for F.D.A. funding was a series of short-term continuing resolutions, which would be renewed until a solution is found for government-wide spending.

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