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Monday, December 16, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: Congress has reached a deal to fund the government and it’s good news for animals!

There are various approaches the HSLF team uses to bring about changes for animals, and one of our best tools is to pursue bill and report language in the annual appropriations bills that Congress must enact each year to fund the federal government and its agencies. We’ve been hard at work on this all year long—and it paid off in significant wins. We are thrilled to report that the U.S. House and Senate have struck a deal on a Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations package (known as an “omnibus”), which impacts our companion animals, wildlife, wild horses and burros, marine mammals, and animals in zoos and research facilities. Here are some highlights in the package:

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  • Wild horses and burros—Provides an additional $21 million to the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, funds that can only be accessed after the agency submits a comprehensive plan on how it will implement an aggressive, non-lethal program. The program must be based on scientifically-sound, safe and humane fertility control tools excluding surgical sterilization, an increased focus on adoptions, and relocation of wild horses and burros to larger, more humane pastures instead of perpetually warehousing these animals in holding pens. Additionally, the bill prohibits the BLM and, for the first time ever, also the U.S. Forest Service from killing or sending to slaughter healthy horses or burros.
  • Wildlife trafficking whistleblowers—Includes the Rescuing Animals With Rewards Act, which authorizes the State Department to award monetary incentives to persons who disclose original information concerning transnational wildlife crimes that result in a successful enforcement action.
  • USDA data purge—Directs USDA to promptly resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA), in their entirety without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other businesses cited for violations. This is the first time Congress has included bill language (rather than report language) to fix this problem, and USDA will have no choice but to follow this directive.
  • PAWS—Provides $2 million for a new grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, to help provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals. House committee report language directs the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development to coordinate implementation during FY20 (House and Senate committee report language not explicitly reversed is deemed agreed to by both chambers in the omnibus).
  • Horse slaughter—Prohibits USDA expenditures on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter plants from operating in the U.S. during FY20.
  • AWA enforcement—House committee report calls on USDA to require that inspectors document every observed violation, to reverse concealment practices that the agency has promoted during the past few years. The omnibus includes $31,310,000 for Animal Welfare Act enforcement.
  • Horse soring—Provides $1 million (a $295,000 increase) for USDA enforcement of the HPA, to crack down on the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds.
  • Class B random source dealers—Renews the prohibition against USDA using funds to license these dealers who are notorious for trafficking in dogs and cats obtained through theft for research and testing.
  • Use of primates in research—Omnibus report language directs the National Institutes of Health to report to Congress on alternatives to reduce and replace primates in biomedical research.
  • USDA Inspector General—House committee report presses this office to strengthen its animal fighting enforcement and to audit USDA’s enforcement of the AWA, HPA, and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
  • Humane slaughter—Renews bill and report language directing USDA to ensure that inspectors focus attention on compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive at slaughter plants and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes, and stunning areas, and that all inspectors receive robust training.
  • Pet food safety—Provides $500,000 for the Food and Drug Administration to address pentobarbital contamination in pet food, which has caused illness and death in pets.
  • Disaster planning—Continues funding for USDA to coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to support state and local governments’ efforts to plan for protection of people with animals and incorporate lessons learned from previous disasters. Directs USDA to work with producers that want to voluntarily develop disaster plans to prevent livestock deaths and injuries.
  • Vet care—Provides $8,000,000 for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment program that encourages veterinarians to locate in underserved rural or urban areas.
  • Wildlife protection funding—Maintains level funding for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs that protect species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Provides an increase of almost 30% from FY19 for the internationally focused Multinational Species Conservation Fund. The omnibus also rejects a proposed cut to the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Program, maintaining funding for its grants supporting proactive, non-lethal measures by livestock producers to reduce the risk of livestock loss by wolves, and to compensate producers for livestock losses caused by wolves.
  • Marine mammals—Provides $3 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for North Atlantic right whale conservation, with $1 million specifically reserved for a pilot project for research and development of safer fishing gear to lessen entanglements with these critically endangered whales. Also maintains funding of the Marine Mammal Commission—a key independent federal agency tasked with addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems—overcoming its proposed elimination in the President’s budget.
  • Trophy imports—Directs the USFWS to reevaluate its current policy allowing imports of hunting trophies on a case-by-case basis and analyze how targeted investments and technical assistance to the exporting countries' conservation programs would impact the survival of elephants and lions, improve local communities, and sustain species’ populations. The omnibus expresses concern that the current trophy import policy is detrimental and may not adequately determine whether a country has proper safeguards in place to protect species vulnerable to poaching.
  • Wildlife trafficking—Dedicates funds under the State Department and the Department of the Interior to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and illicit wildlife trafficking. Prohibits use of State Department funds by any military units or personnel credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking. 

These victories are the product of months of effort, as we worked with Appropriations Committee leaders in the House and Senate and mobilized constituent support and strong bipartisan engagement for them. The package demonstrates again how animal protection transcends party lines and reflects core American values. We are hopeful that the House and Senate will swiftly approve this package and President Trump will sign it into law before Friday’s deadline, to bring all these accomplishments over the finish line.

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