Director’s e-Memo│May 9, 2017

Federal and State Budget Updates
Last week, the U.S. House and Senate passed the fiscal year 2017 omnibus appropriations bill, sending the legislation to the White House for President Trump’s signature. The legislation funds the government for the remaining five months of fiscal year 2017. In most areas, the USDA/NIFA (National Institute for Food and Agriculture, our federal agency) funding lines saw level or increased funding as compared to fiscal year 2016.  There was one increase in funding to address the opioid abuse epidemic in rural America, but we have not determined if that is a current funding priority in Texas (or if we have the capacity). Bottom line: we expect level funding for the remainder of 2017 and probably the same for 2018.  Work on the 2018 Farm Bill is slowly progressing and there may be opportunities to increase Extension capacity through special line items, but uncertainty continues.

At the state level, there is now less than three weeks remaining in the Texas Legislature’s 85th session, with a myriad of issues yet to be resolved.  The state general fund budget (SB-1) has moved out of the Senate and House and has been referred to conference committee. The conference committee is composed of five members of the Senate and five members of the House. Once (or if) the final budget recommendation is passed out of committee it must still be approved by both the Senate and House before it goes to the governor for approval, line-item veto or no signature (which means it passes, but without executive office support).  A multitude of bills have not passed from the legislature to the governor yet and deadlines for action are quickly passing.  As with most sessions, the last few weeks (and days) of the legislative session will be a whirlwind of activities and political maneuvering.

Right now, it is difficult to even speculate on the final level of state general fund support for Extension. The House version had a 3 percent reduction and the Senate had a 5 percent reduction (along with an additional 1.7 percent targeted at adult leadership programs).  Needless to say, the situation is fluid and can change at a moment’s notice.  As soon as SB-1 passes out of committee we will be in a position to provide more details on the impact to our agency.

Panhandle Partners Appreciation Lunch
I was extremely proud to join Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp last week at an appreciation luncheon in Pampa to recognize the dedication, commitment and hard work of all who aided in combatting and recovering from the devastating wildfires that struck the Texas panhandle.
As fires blackened 500,000 acres of pasture land in early March, killing thousands of livestock animals and torching thousands of miles of fences, AgriLife Extension employees and volunteers worked tirelessly, often around-the-clock, to collect and distribute tens of thousands of bales of hay, tons of feed/cake, and other supplies to affected ranchers.

It’s this kind of selfless dedication to your local communities, and to the people of this state, that makes me incredibly proud to be your director.

 Raise Your Hand for 4-H
4-H alumni nationwide are being asked to “raise your hand and pay it forward” in a call to action that’s underway through June 30. The campaign is open to all 4-H friends and supporters, but especially seeks to connect and communicate with alumni.

There’s no cost to participate; simply register online. To promote the campaign, please refer to the #4HGrown social media messages and other instructions in this online packet. I encourage all county offices to join in. An additional benefit is the chance to win $20,000 from the National 4-H Council for 4-H support in the state that has the most respondents. Presently in third place, we look forward to a Texas rally over the next month.

Extension Educators Visit Capitol Hill
Each year the national Public Issues Leadership Development (PILD) conference enables participants to broaden their understanding of public policy issues that impact Extension. The program takes place near Washington D.C. and culminates with a day on Capitol Hill, when our participants connect with congressional representatives to discuss the positive difference that AgriLife Extension makes in the lives of Texans.

Professional association leaders who represented AgriLife Extension at the 2017 event in April were Michelle Allen and Denita Young (Texas Extension Association of Family and Consumer Sciences), Shane McLellan and Brian Triplett (Texas County Agricultural Agents Association), Kristen Clark (Texas Association of Extension 4-H Agents), Steven Klose (Texas Extension Specialists Association), and Daphne Richards (Epsilon Sigma Phi). Erika Bochat, regional program leader, attended for professional development and another regional program leader, Mandi Seaton, served on the conference planning committee. Ronnie McDonald, executive director of the Texas Rural Leadership Program, gave a keynote address.

Register for the Texas Rural Leadership Conference
With program details coming soon, it’s time to save the date and plan local announcements of the 2017 Texas Rural Leadership Conference, “Building a Story Together—Weaving a Regional Narrative.” Scheduled June 20-22 in Lufkin, the annual event will convene leaders from across the state to learn about asset-based community development strategies, as well as current resources available to rural communities from state and national agencies. Online registration is available at https://agriliferegister.tamu.edu/RuralLeadership. For more information about the Texas Rural Leadership Program and its events, visit http://trlp.tamu.edu.

Douglas L. Steele, PhD
Director, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
600 John Kimbrough Blvd., Suite 509
7101 TAMU, College Station TX 77843-7101
Tel. 979.845.7967, dsteele@tamu.edu
Rebekah See-Hruska, Assistant to the Director
See-Hruska@tamu.edu

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