The American Horse Council has announced that the Omnibus Appropriations Bill recently passed by Congress, which will fund government agencies and programs until the end of the fiscal year, September 30, 2016, contains several provisions that will directly impact the horse industry and industry professionals.
A major provision includes reforms to the H-2B Temporary Non-Agriculture Worker Program, making the program less burdensome for horse industry employers. Among other changes, the reform will exempt H-2B returning workers from the $66,000 annual salary cap, require wages to be based on the job category and experience level required, rather than an artificially inflated median wage, and clearly define “seasonal work” as a period of ten months, rather than the period of nine months in the 2015 H-2B rule.
The legislation also appropriates $898 million for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), the USDA agency responsible for protecting U.S. horses and the nation’s equine industry. Funding for Equine, Cervid, and Small Rumiant health is set at $19.5 million, which is the same as the 2015 fiscal year.
Other provisions are related to several horse welfare issues, including the defunding of horse slaughter, as well as language that will provide funding of $679,000 for the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA), which was enacted to prevent the soring of Tennessee Walking Horses. The defunding of horse slaughter will prohibit the USDA from using any funds to provide inspectors at meat processing facilities that slaughter horses, and will effectively prevent any such facility from opening until September 30, 2016.
The bill also provides a three year reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), with funding of $450 million for the coming fiscal year. The program will provide funds and matching grants to federal, state and local governments for the acquisition of land and water for recreation and the protection of natural resources, and will provide recreational riders with the benefit of increased recreational opportunities.
A final horse industry provision will affect the country’s wild horses and burros, and prohibits the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from euthanizing healthy wild horses currently in BLM care. The provision will also prohibit the BLM from selling wild horses or burros through transactions that will result in their being harvested and processed into commercial products.
The bill is expected to be signed by the President shortly.