Tag Archives: domestic

Wal-Mart’s push on animal welfare hailed as game changer

UPDATED: Walmart, the nation’s largest food retailer, announced in May its commitment to improving animal welfare throughout its supply chain and issued revised animal welfare policies hailed as game-changing.

Even some of the company’s harshest critics, including the watchdog group Mercy for Animals, cheered the policy change as signaling a new era.

The “Position on Farm Animal Welfare” posted on Walmart’s corporate site states, “We expect that our suppliers will not tolerate animal abuse of any kind.”

The statement says Walmart supports the “Five Freedoms” of animal welfare outlined by the World Organization for Animal Health:

• Freedom from hunger and thirst.

• Freedom from discomfort.

• Freedom from pain, injury or disease.

• Freedom to express normal behavior.

• Freedom from fear and distress.

The company wants suppliers of fresh and frozen meat, deli, dairy and eggs to take action against animal abuse, adopt the “Five Freedoms,” avoid subjecting animals to painful procedures, such as tail docking, de-horning and castration, and to use antibiotics only to treat or prevent disease.

Walmart also wants suppliers to stop using pig gestations crates and other housing that confines animals to small spaces.

At the Humane Society of the United States, president and CEO Wayne Pacelle said, “Timelines aside, this announcement helps create an economy where no agribusiness company — for business reasons alone — should ever again install a new battery cage, gestation crate or veal crate. Walmart is helping drive the transition away from immobilizing cages and other inhumane practices and toward a more humane, more sustainable approach to production agriculture.”

He continued, “This is an unstoppable trend and that was the trajectory even before Walmart made the announcement. The company’s embrace of a more ethical framework for the treatment of all farm animals serves as perhaps the most powerful catalyst for change throughout animal agriculture.”

Mercy for Animals president Nathan Runkle said, “This is a historic and landmark day for the protection of farmed animals in America.”

Mercy has waged a multi-year campaign against Walmart — the company accounts for about 25 percent of the U.S. food business. The Mercy effort has involved protests, publicity in major newspapers and on mobile billboards, celebrity denunciations and a petition via Change.org.

In recent years, Mercy has released investigative video documenting extreme animal abuse by Walmart suppliers. The videos show pigs hit with metal cans and sheets of wood and sows held in cages so small they could barely move.

Mercy, in its praise for the Walmart position statement, also emphasized its own position: The best way to prevent animal abuse is to stop eating animals.

Charting change

Major animal-welfare moves announced by food and retail companies since 2012:

• FEBRUARY 2012: McDonald’s Corp. requires U.S. pork suppliers to outline plans to phase out sow gestation stalls.

• AUGUST 2014: Nestle says it wants to get rid of the confinement of sows in gestation crates and egg-laying chickens in cages. It also wants to eliminate the cutting of the horns, tails and genitals of farm animals without painkillers and pledges to work with suppliers on the responsible use of antibiotics.

• DECEMBER 2014: Starbucks supports the responsible use of antibiotics, eliminating the use of artificial growth hormones and wants to address concerns related to de-horning and other forms of castration — with and without anesthesia.

• MARCH 2015: McDonald’s says it is asking chicken suppliers to curb the use of antibiotics. 

• APRIL 2015: Aramark, the largest U.S. food-service company, says it’s eliminating all cages for laying hens by 2020, gestation crates for mother pigs by 2017 and crates for veal calves by 2017.

• APRIL 2015: Tyson Foods plans to eliminate the use of antibiotics medically important to humans in its U.S. broiler chicken flocks by the end of September 2017. The company has also said it’s working on ways to curb use of antibiotics for its beef and chicken businesses.

— Associated Press

Cats speak with meows, blinks, tails, whiskers

When it comes to cats, those meows mean … well, a lot of things.

With each purr, yowl or even blink, felines are saying, “Hello,” “Let’s snuggle” or “Beat it, Dad.”

For the increasing number of pet owners who want to connect with their often-aloof fur babies, experts say there’s something to gain from those attempts at communication.

Cats are independent, and so they are easily misunderstood, said Dr. Gary Weitzman, president and CEO of the San Diego Humane Society and SPCA and author of the new National Geographic book “How to Speak Cat.”

He aims to unravel the mystery by helping people discern what cats are trying to convey.

Crafty kitties can make 16 meow sounds and usually only unleash them when people are around, he said.

Meows can be their way of saying feed me, pet me or let me out, and hardly ever get exchanged between cats.

That’s because cats learn they can get something desirable from people if they meow, said Dr. Bonnie Beaver, executive director of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and a professor at Texas A&M University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. She wrote the 2003 textbook “Feline Behavior.”

The meaning of a scratch or a hiss is pretty clear, but cats can talk in more subtle ways — with their eyes and tails.

A slow blink from a feline, for example, is like a wink between friends, Weitzman said.

“Blinking is like a kitty kiss,” he said.

And extending their tails straight up equates to a human handshake, he said. A cat perks up that appendage as it approaches to show it’s happy to see you.

Susan McMinn, 55, of Tryon, North Carolina, was eager to try the slow-blinking exercise with her Siamese cat, Jade, after reading the book.

“I sat and blinked slowly at my cat and she blinked right back. I know she loves me, of course, but now I feel I understand her communication even more,” McMinn said.

McMinn has owned Jade for 10 years and has had six cats over her lifetime, but she says it’s clear she still has a lot to learn.

“And I thought I was an expert!” she said.

Even ear and whisker movements signify something worth listening to. If a cat’s ears are flat, don’t get close because it’s scared or facing a fight, Weitzman said.

A kitty is happy, calm or friendly when its whiskers are naturally out to the side. Twice as thick as a human hair and rooted three times as deep, the whiskers guide them, help them with prey and show how they are feeling.

Learning to communicate with cats becomes even important for those who adopt a pet based only on the color or breed they want versus a connection with the animal.

At Happy Cats Sanctuary in Medford, New York, a potential owner might ask for a “white cat with fluffy fur,” said Melissa Cox, director of communications and development.

She tells them not to go by looks alone because the true indicator of compatibility is spending time with a cat and getting to know it.

For McMinn, she says she isn’t done with the book and plans to use some of its training tips.

But now she knows “what to look for in her (cat’s) tail and ear movement, whisker positions and in her eyes.”

Coalition seeks U.S. endangered species protection for elephants

A coalition of wildlife groups has filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to uplist African elephants from threatened to endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Since the African elephant was originally listed as threatened in 1978, the species’ population has declined by about 60 percent, primarily due to poaching for the ivory trade. Habitat destruction and unsustainable trophy hunting also contributed to the decline. Scientists say elephant mortality is outpacing the natural birth rate, fixing the species in a pattern of ongoing decline.

The coalition includes the International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and The Fund for Animals.

“African elephants are in very real danger of disappearing from the wild,” said Jeff Flocken, North American regional director for IFAW. “U.S. policy for elephants needs an update to reflect the current crisis and declining status of the species. As one of the world’s largest ivory markets and home to many elephant trophy hunters, the U.S. can end our contribution to the slaughter with an endangered listing.”

He added, “It is the best tool in our domestic policy toolkit to stop our role in elephant deaths and bring global awareness to the crisis.”

The coalition, in a news statement, said the current regulations for African elephants under the threatened listing fail to adequately protect the species from unsustainable trade. An endangered listing would institute restrictions on both domestic and international trade in African elephant parts — including ivory, hunting trophies, skins and other products — and would expand public oversight of such activities.

It is generally prohibited to engage in the import of or interstate commerce in endangered species and their parts, except in limited circumstances that clearly benefit the species, such as for scientific purposes. An analysis in the petition shows that between 2003 and 2012, parts from about 50,000 elephants crossed borders worldwide in legal trade, including over 40,280 whose ivory and tusks were legally traded, and over 10,240 elephants whose parts were imported as trophies into the United States.

The uplisting petition comes at a significant milestone. One year ago, the White House announced a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking, which called for new rules to restrict the domestic ivory trade.  The Petitioners will continue to support the Fish & Wildlife Service’s efforts to implement the National Strategy.

“Now is not the time to give up on these iconic, majestic creatures,” said Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for Humane Society International. “The United States has a chance to shutter one of the world’s largest elephant ivory, skin and trophy markets. The positive potential impact of an endangered listing cannot be overstated.”

Goats could be sent to graze former nuclear weapons site

A goat herder who has a college degree in weed sciences told U.S. wildlife officials that she could eliminate the need for a possible 700-acre controlled burn at the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge in Colorado by turning her goats loose there and eliminate concerns over spreading radioactive plutonium.

Lani Malmberg said it’s unwise to burn land that has been exposed to the toxic metal, and she said her goats won’t suffer any ill consequences.

The refuge was created in 2006 in the wake of the nuclear weapons site’s closure, and a $7 billion cleanup was finished in 2005. Concerns that a controlled burn there could put plutonium into the air prompted Boulder’s Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center and surrounding communities to take a stance against that happening.

A spokesman for the Fish and Wildlife Service eight-state Mountain-Prairie regional office in Denver said it’s the agency’s current position that grazing is not an option at the Department of Energy weapons plant-turned-wildlife refuge because of a lack of fencing and staff.

Fish and Wildlife regional spokesman John Bryan said other options are being considered by the service at this time and no final decision has been made, the Boulder Daily Camera reported.

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Jan. 20 issued a permit allowing for the burn in what is known as the South Woman Creek area at the southwestern edge of the refuge, near new housing developments.

Boulder City Councilwoman Lisa Morzell said officials are concerned that the animals would have to be euthanized, and there would be protests from animal rights people. She said those concerns are unfounded.

“Why would you have to euthanize them?” Morzell asked. “They are not used for milk or meat, they are used for grazing. And the individual that owns these goats is able to make a sufficient income that way. They are not intended for dairy or for meat.”

On the Web…

Information from: Daily Camera, http://www.dailycamera.com/

How does this little piggy get to market? | What producers don’t want you to know

At any given moment at Reichardt Duck Farm in Petaluma, California, about 200,000 ducks are living in tightly cramped pens, suffering disease, injury and starvation until they join the ranks of the million ducks the farm slaughters in a year for the food industry.

That’s a fact only known to the world at large thanks to the activist group Mercy for Animals, which in late October released “Ducks in Despair,” a secretly-filmed video that quickly went viral as viewers saw workers burning ducklings’ beaks and brutally breaking injured ducks’ necks. The images were captured by an undercover Mercy investigator working as a barn-cleaner on the farm, and also show birds being denied access to food, water and veterinary care.

Reichardt is no isolated incident. Other viral videos, filmed by Mercy and other undercover investigators, show animal abuses on farms providing dairy, eggs, beef, pork and poultry to consumers nationwide.

Videos show calves, being raised for veal, crammed into feces-covered boxes so small they cannot lie down. 

Videos show pigs being stowed in crates so small they can’t turn around, and being beaten with metal rods.

Videos show live chicks getting tossed into machines to be mashed into feed.

And here at home, a Mercy investigator released hidden-camera footage in early 2014 from Wiese Brothers Farms, a dairy farm in Greenleaf, Wisconsin, where workers were shown kicking, stabbing and whipping cows, even dragging downed animals around by chains attached to their legs and necks.

More recently, on Nov. 12, Mercy released an undercover video from Andrus Dairy in Birnamwood, Wisconsin, showing workers kicking and punching cows, hacking at their tails with pruning shears and dragging animals by their necks with ropes attached to tractors. The dairy was identified as a supplier to Ohio-based Great Lakes Cheese, one of the largest cheese companies in the country and a supplier to major grocery chains. 

“The handling of the dairy cows in this video is not acceptable,” Dr. Temple Grandin, animal welfare expert, said after reviewing the footage.

More than 80 undercover investigations have been conducted at U.S. factory farms in the past decade, resulting in dozens of videos that reveal animal abuse and real threats to food safety. And even as campaigns are launched to implement policies that can prevent such cruelty, counter-campaigns are trying to prevent undercover investigations in the first place. 

Earlier this year, the state of Idaho enacted an “ag-gag” law that criminalizes undercover investigations, making unauthorized recordings punishable by up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine. 

The measure is not the first of its kind, and it likely will not be the last.

Model ag-gag bills have been circulated by the right-wing, corporate-backed American Legislative Exchange Council as early as 2002. ALEC, the organization behind so-called “Stand Your Ground” legislation and anti-immigrant bills, published a draft that year misleadingly titled the Animal and Ecological Terrorism Act that would prohibit “entering an animal or research facility to take pictures by photograph, video camera or other means with the intent to commit criminal activities or defame the facility or its owner.”

Seven states have thus far passed ag-gag measures aimed at blocking whistleblowers from revealing abuse or unsafe conditions at livestock facilities. Advocates say farmers and livestock producers need the laws to guard against intrusions into their homes and businesses.

progressive pushback

But a broad progressive coalition has come out against the bills, with constitutional challenges pending against ag-gag laws in Utah and Idaho. It is a cause that intertwines animal welfare, the environment, labor rights, free speech, freedom of the press, food safety and consumer protection.

Some 70 groups have publicly stated opposition to ag-gag laws. Plaintiffs in the federal challenge to the Idaho law include the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Food Safety and Farm Sanctuary.

The law is “deeply distressing because it is aimed entirely at protecting an industry, especially in its worst practices that endanger people, at the expense of freedom of speech,” says professor Erwin Chemerinsky, a constitutional law expert and dean at the University of California, Irvine School of Law. “It would even criminalize a whistleblower who took a picture or video of wrongdoing in the workplace.”

In fact, an undercover investigator punished in Idaho faces far more severe penalties than a farmworker who abuses animals. Animal cruelty in the state can result in a mere six months in jail; people caught filming abuse face up to a year and a $5,000 fine.

Those who shoot, circulate and defend the hidden-camera videos say the films do much more than shock viewers. The videos obviously can have an immediate impact on how people shop, and what they put on the dinner table. But the videos also impact how workers, farms, factories, corporations and government regulators operate.

Seven years ago, a Humane Society of the United States investigation at a slaughterhouse in Chino, California, revealed workers using forklifts and chains to push and drag cows too sick to stand to the killing floor. Much of the meat from the slaughterhouse was for the National School Lunch Program. The undercover video pushed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to order the nation’s largest meat recall.

More recently, a Mercy for Animals investigation of an egg farm where dead chickens were rotting in cages with egg-laying hens prompted major retailers and restaurant chains to drop the supplier.

The full impact of the video from the Andrus Dairy in Wisconsin isn’t known. But quickly Great Lakes Cheese issued a statement of outrage and said it would no longer accept milk from the farm.

And Mercy’s investigation at the Wiese farm resulted in arrests and convictions of the animal abusers, as well as a corporate pledge of change. The Brown County Sheriff’s Department arrested four men for animal cruelty in connection with the Wiese video, and all four were convicted on multiple counts of animal cruelty and ordered to pay fines.

Mercy, in statements, praised the sheriff’s department and the district attorney’s office for “taking swift and decisive action in pursuing justice for these abused and exploited animals.”

The organization’s efforts in that case extended far beyond Wisconsin. At the time the footage was taken, Wiese Brothers supplied cheese to DiGiorno Pizza, owned by Nestlé. And Mercy called out the company for its association, with Mercy’s executive director Nathan Runkle saying in a news release, “No socially responsible corporation should support dairy operations that beat, kick, mutilate and neglect animals. Due to its complete lack of meaningful animal welfare standards, DiGiorno has allowed a culture of cruelty to flourish in its cheese supply chain.”

Nestlé publicly deplored the abuse and, last January, announced changes in how it scrutinizes suppliers. “We will not do business with companies that do not adhere to our strict standards, and we are always looking for ways to do better,” a company statement read.

By August, Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, had announced what Mercy called “the most comprehensive and far-reaching animal welfare policy of its kind.”

Nestlé vowed to eliminate many of the cruelest forms of institutionalized animal abuse from its supply chain, including an end to:

• Tail docking and dehorning of dairy cattle.

• Castrating piglets without painkillers.

• Confining calves in veal crates, pregnant pigs in gestation crates and egg-laying hens in battery cages.

Nestlé also vowed to phase out pharmaceutical growth promoters for poultry.

Runkle, in a statement, said, “We are heartened that Nestlé not only took notice, but also took action after egregious cruelty was exposed at one of its dairy suppliers. Nestlé’s new industry-leading policy will reduce the suffering of millions of animals each year and hopefully inspire other food providers to implement and enforce similar animal welfare requirements.”

Opponents of the ag-gag laws say Nestlé’s response to the documented abuse at a dairy farm and to the U.S. government’s response to abuse and health and safety issues at the California slaughterhouse prove the value of whistleblowers and undercover investigations.

Still, animal welfare activists expect a dozen ag-gag bills to be introduced in state legislatures in the next two years.

On the web…

http://www.gotmisery.com

Still the elephant in the room

Thirty-five years ago, as editor of Amazon: Milwaukee’s Feminist Press, I reported on the murders of Heather Halseth, Alice Alzner, Joanne Esser, Janet Marie Bey and Nancy Lynn Radbill. 

They were only a few of the women murdered, raped and mutilated in southeast Wisconsin during the spring and summer of 1979. Adding to the horror was the disgraceful response of Milwaukee Police Chief Harold Breier to feminist advocates: “How many of these rapes do you really think are rapes?”

This misogynist rampage by both criminals and the criminal justice system fueled intense anger that led to the first Take Back the Night protest. On Oct. 19, 1979, 3,000 people marched through downtown Milwaukee demanding “Fire Breier, he’s a liar!” 

The events of 1979 haunt me still amid recent reports of women’s remains found in burn pits, in corn fields, in suitcases tossed onto roadsides. There are also women who disappear without a trace, like Kelly Dwyer, who vanished from the apartment of a male acquaintance. Landfill searches failed to unearth her remains. Increasingly, criminals plan well, knowing that no evidence or degraded evidence means no murder charges.

Even when there is evidence, murder charges are pleaded down and perpetrators get hand slaps. Judge Jeffrey Wagner recently gave 15 years to a previously convicted felon who plugged nine bullets into Alexis Taylor, killing her and her fetus. At that rate, the young killer can serve time for the murders of four more women during his lifetime. 

Then we have defense attorneys who blame victims, suggesting that women like those found bound in suitcases expired in the pursuit of “consensual” sexual gratification. “If it’s a reckless act involving two people, which one is being reckless?” asked Steven Zelich’s attorney. Conveniently, dead women cannot testify as to the circumstances. 

Those are only a few of the most sensational crimes and injustices against women in recent months. Each year in Milwaukee County alone, almost 5,000 women seek restraining orders against abusive husbands, boyfriends, relatives and even children — mostly male. That staggering figure represents a minority of the number of women being abused, those at the end of their ropes and brave enough to come forward.

Congress is focusing on the military’s failure to assist rape victims. WiG ran an editorial tying violence against women to the anti-woman political climate. The Nation, a liberal bastion, ran a cover story about making colleges more responsive to rape victims. Conservative columnist Ross Douthat suggested that since alcohol use is often present in campus assaults, all drinking ages should be lowered to 18.

Well-meaning or absurd, editorial writers keep talking around the elephant in the room. Male violence against women is endemic in all societies, across all cultures, races and economic and political classes. Decades of statistics from the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention document pervasive patterns of male violence against women and its pernicious effects on families, communities and whole nations.

Better social services and legal accountability are admirable goals. But nothing will change until scientists and health experts focus their research on men. That is where the problem lies. Why do men treat women so brutally? What can be done to stop them? In a classic example of patriarchal reversal, feminists who raised the issue of woman hatred in the 1970s were condemned as “man haters.” 

Evidence of widespread misogynist violence has multiplied since then. We continue to avoid the essential question.

Foundation funding for LGBT issues tops $100 million

A review of grants for LGBT issues shows that domestic funding exceeded $100 million in 2012, according to Funders for LGBTQ Issues.

The organization also reported that funding in 2012 was largely stable.

The report, considered the most comprehensive of its kind, captured data on 4,068 grants awarded by 399 foundations “to identify gaps, trends, and opportunities in LGBTQ philanthropy.”

The review found that foundation funding of LGBT issues totaled $121.4 million in 2012, a slight decrease from the $123 million in 2011, which was a record.

Other findings in the survey:

• The top five funders in 2012 were: Anonymous, Ford Foundation, Gill Foundation, Arcus Foundation and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund, which collectively provided 45 percent of all LGBTQ funding for the year.

• Corporate funders increased grantmaking by 26 percent; public funders increased grantmaking by 20 percent.

• Youth were the top funded sub-population in the United States, receiving $20.4 million in funding.

• 25 percent of recipient organizations in the U.S. were not exclusively LGBTQ-focused, the other 75 percent were.

• New York received $11.7 million, the most local and statewide funding of any state.

• International funding for LGBTQ issues totaled $20.2 million in 2012, down from its record high of $27 million in 2011.


• Refugees, asylees and migrants were the top funded sub-population for international funding, receiving $3.4 million.

• Of funding devoted to international LGBTQ issues, 43 percent (or $8.8 million) went to organizations based in the U.S. The second-most funded region was Sub-Saharan Africa, which secured $3.4 million.

“This report documents how funders are responding to a range of issues and needs in LGBT communities, from marriage equality and gender identity rights to safe schools and HIV/AIDS,” Ben Francisco Maulbeck, president of Funders for LGBTQ Issues, said in a news release. “It also helps us identify gaps and serves as a barometer for our progress toward engaging more funders in LGBTQ issues.”  

On the Web …

www.lgbtfunders.org

PepsiCo pulls controversial Mountain Dew ad

PepsiCo has pulled an online ad for Mountain Dew that was criticized for portraying racial stereotypes and making light of violence toward women.

In the 60-second spot developed by African-American rapper Tyler, The Creator, a battered white woman on crutches is urged by an officer to identify a suspect out of a lineup of black men. A goat character known as Felicia is included in the lineup.

The goat makes threatening remarks to the woman such as “Ya better not snitch on a player” and “Keep ya mouth shut.” She eventually screams, “I can’t do this, no no no!” and runs away.

The word “do” is in apparent reference to the soft drink’s “Dew It” slogan.

PepsiCo Inc., based in Purchase, N.Y., apologized in a statement and said it understood how the ad could be offensive.

Jen Ryan, a spokeswoman for PepsiCo, said the company was alerted this week by its consumer relations team that some people found the ad offensive. The company immediately decided to take down the spot and was told by Tyler that he would remove it from his YouTube channel as well, she said.

The ad was never intended to air on TV, Ryan said.

A publicist for Tyler, the Creator did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment. His raps have been criticized for being misogynistic and homophobic at times but he has also expressed support for the singer Frank Ocean when he revealed he was bisexual.

An agency-by-agency guide to Obama’s 2014 budget

President Barack Obama has proposed a $3.8 trillion budget for fiscal 2014 that aims to slash the deficit by a net $600 billion over 10 years, raise taxes and trim popular benefit programs, including Social Security and Medicare. The White House claims deficit reductions of $1.8 trillion, but Obama’s proposal would negate more than $1 trillion in automatic spending cuts that started in March. Those cuts average 5 percent for domestic agencies and 8 percent for the Defense Department this year.

The agency-by-agency breakdown:

Agency: Agriculture

Total Spending: $145.8 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 5.9 percent decrease

Discretionary Spending: $21.5 billion

Mandatory Spending: $124.4 billion

Highlights: Similar to years past, Obama’s budget proposes savings by cutting farm subsidies. The proposal envisions a $37.8 billion reduction in the deficit by eliminating some subsidies that are paid directly to farmers, reducing government help for crop insurance and streamlining agricultural land conservation programs.

The Obama administration says many of these subsidies can no longer be justified with the value of both crop and livestock production at all-time highs. Farm income is expected to increase 13.6 percent to $128.2 billion in 2013, the highest inflation-adjusted amount in 40 years.

Obama and his Republican predecessor, President George W. Bush, have proposed similar cuts every year and Congress has largely ignored them. There is congressional momentum for eliminating some subsidies paid directly to farmers this year, though, as farm-state lawmakers search for ways to cut agricultural spending and pass a five-year farm bill. There is less appetite among lawmakers to cut crop insurance.

The budget also would overhaul the way American food aid is sent abroad, a move largely anticipated by farm and food aid groups. The United States now donates much of its food aid by shipping food overseas, a process many groups say is inefficient. The budget would transfer the money used to ship the food to cash accounts at the United States Agency for International Development. The administration says that would help 2 million more people annually and save an estimated $500 million over 10 years. Farm and shipping groups are strongly opposed to the idea.

The bulk of the USDA budget is dollars for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, which are expected to cost around $80 billion in the 2014 budget year. Costs for the program have more than doubled during Obama’s presidency, driven by an ailing economy and an expansion of the benefit in 2009. Conservatives have called for cutting or overhauling food stamps, but the budget says the Obama administration strongly supports the current program “at a time of continued need.”

Agency: Commerce

Total Spending: $11.7 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 34.3 percent increase

Discretionary Spending: $8.6 billion

Mandatory Spending: $3.1 billion

Highlights: Obama wants to boost investments in research and development and export promotion in hopes of spurring economic growth.

The president is asking for $1 billion to set up a nationwide network of manufacturing innovation institutes to develop cutting-edge technologies to make U.S. manufacturing firms more competitive.

Obama’s budget request also calls for $754 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology laboratories aimed at making American manufacturers more competitive in the global marketplace. The money is for promoting advances in areas such as cyber security, manufacturing, communications and disaster resilience.

The president also wants $113 million to create the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership. The money would go to projects such as industrial parks and industry academic centers to promote long-term economic growth.

Obama’s budget would also boost funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, including its weather satellite programs.

The president is seeking $21 million for the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia program, which is a public-private partnership aimed at finding answers to manufacturing challenges that U.S. businesses face.

Obama also is requesting $520 million for the International Trade Administration.

Agency: Defense

Total Spending: $682.9 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 0.5 percent increase

Discretionary Spending: $615.3 billion

Mandatory Spending: $67.6 billion

Highlights: The Pentagon is proposing savings mainly through ending or shrinking certain weapons programs, shaving health care benefits and reducing military construction. It also would slow the pace of military pay raises. Spending would otherwise be largely the same in all major categories as in 2013.

The budget proposal calls on Congress to approve a round of domestic military base closings in 2015, which would cost an estimated $2.4 billion in the short run but save an unspecified amount over the long term.

Although the U.S. is winding down its role in Afghanistan, the Pentagon faces enormous costs of pulling out its troops. The 2014 budget includes a “placeholder” figure of $88.5 billion for war costs, although that number is expected to be revised down slightly once the White House makes more decisions about the pace of 2014 troop withdrawals. The budget assumes that the U.S. will have 34,000 troops in Afghanistan at the end of the budget year in September, down from the current 63,000.

Agency: Education

Total Spending: $56.7 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 10.8 percent decrease

Discretionary Spending: $71.2 billion

Mandatory Spending: $0

Highlights: Obama’s proposed education budget calls for expanded programs for young people before they reach kindergarten and offered Congress two options to consider: a $750 million preschool program for 4-year-old students from four-member families earning $47,100 or less; or a more expansive $2 billion option that would provide universal access to pre-school programs, with incentives for states to offer programs for all families. The proposal requires that up to 5 percent of those funds be used to measure student achievement and collect data.

The president’s preschool plan would be paid for by a higher tax on tobacco, which the administration said would raise $78 billion over a decade by almost doubling the federal tax on cigarettes to $1.95 per pack.

During its first years, federal tax dollars would cover 90 percent of the costs and states would pick up the balance for these preschool programs, said Carmel Martin, the Education Department’s policy chief. However, the federal share would shrink to 25 percent in coming years and states would be left to pick up 75 percent of the costs.

The budget also sets aside $11.8 billion to help local districts keep teachers on staff while the economy returns to pre-recession levels.

Obama’s budget also would move student loan interest rates away from Congress’ control and peg them to market rates. That shift is a nod to concerns that student borrowing is set in a vacuum by politicians and not by the economy. Interest rates on new Stafford student loans were set to double, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, on July 1. Consumer advocates worried that could cost students who take new student loans at the maximum levels some $5,000 over the life of the loan. Obama’s budget would let new borrowers dodge that rate hike for now, but could open students to higher rates if the markets change in the future.

Obama’s budget also includes $1 billion in funds for a college affordability initiative, which would give money to states in exchange for keeping costs down and investing in improving results, similar to the Race to the Top competition the department used to spur innovation in primary and secondary education.

The maximum Pell Grant amount would increase to $5,645 for each student each year and some 112,000 new students would be added to federal work study programs.

While the budget only asks Congress for the $56.7 billion, the Education Department stands to spend closer to $71.2 billion. That difference _ $14.5 billion _ is the amount the agency collects from student loan interest, fees and other sources, letting the Education Department ask for less than it spends.

Agency: Energy

Total Spending: $32.5 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 35.3 percent increase

Discretionary Spending: $28.4 billion

Mandatory Spending: $4.1 billion

Highlights: Obama again would increase spending for two priorities: clean energy and national security. The budget proposal calls for an additional $615 million to increase use of renewable energy such as solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower and spends more than $2.1 billion to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile and $5.3 billion to clean up nuclear waste at defense-related sites across the nation, including one in Washington state used to build the atomic bomb.

The budget calls for spending $575 million on cutting-edge vehicle technologies, $282 million to develop new biofuels such as ethanol made from switchgrass or other materials and $200 million for a new Energy Security Trust to expand research into electric cars and biofuels to wean automobiles off gasoline. Obama envisions cars that one day can go coast to coast without using any traditional gasoline. Obama says the trust would use revenues from federal leases on offshore drilling without adding to the deficit.

As he has each year in office, Obama again calls for repealing more than $4 billion per year in tax subsidies to oil, gas and other fossil fuel producers. The budget proposal says the plan eliminates “unwarranted and unnecessary subsidies that impede investment in clean energy sources and undermine efforts to address the threat of climate change.”

In a surprise move, the budget calls for a strategic review of the Tennessee Valley Authority, opening the possibility that the federally owned utility could be sold. Although TVA does not receive taxpayer appropriations, the utility’s expenditure of borrowed funds does count in the federal deficit. In a statement, the administration said the utility’s anticipated capital needs, which include expansion of nuclear power, are likely to quickly exceed the agency’s $30 billion statutory cap.

The budget slashes funding for a project to turn weapons-grade plutonium into fuels for nuclear reactors and questions the viability of the nearly $8 billion effort. The budget seeks $503 million for the mixed-oxide fuel plant being built at South Carolina’s Savannah River nuclear site _ $200 million less than current funding. The plant is part of an international nonproliferation effort, with the United States and Russia committed to disposing of at least 34 metric tons each of weapons-grade plutonium to be turned into commercial nuclear reactor fuel.

The so-called MOX project has undergone years of delays, and the Government Accountability Office says the plant is $3 billion over budget. In its budget request, the administration says it supports the theory behind the project but says it “may be unaffordable.”

The budget also includes $386 million _ a $76 million increase over current spending _ for the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E), a program that seeks to research on new ways to generate, store and use energy.

Agency: Environmental Protection Agency

Total Spending: $8 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 9 percent decrease

Discretionary Spending: $8.1 billion

Mandatory Spending: $0

Highlights: Despite President Barack Obama’s tough talk on addressing global warming, his budget for the agency with the biggest role in reducing the heat-trapping pollution contains few bold moves. In fact, Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency presents his fourth consecutive cut for the agency, a 9 percent reduction from 2013 levels.

On climate, the EPA will continue on the course it was on during Obama’s first term: pushing for greater fuel savings so the nation uses less oil from cars, trucks and other mobile sources and supporting voluntary programs to boost energy efficiency. There’s no mention of whether the EPA will control the gases blamed for global warming from coal-fired power plants, as it probably will be compelled to do by law. But the budget envisions a role for EPA in preparing communities for the unavoidable impacts of future climate change, by helping them prepare for extreme weather events linked to global warming.

The cleanup program for the nation’s most hazardous waste sites gets a $67 million increase in the budget request, but that is compared to the deep cuts put in place by automatic spending cuts. It means that no new cleanups will start. But there will be enough money to deal with emergency releases from contaminated sites.

States will also see less federal money to help improve infrastructure and treatment plants for drinking water, meaning the focus will be on small, underserved communities.

The budget also suggests that the agency will beef up its regulation of pesticides, by developing methods to better detect and enforce limits for residues on food and by applying health-based standards to the registration of new pesticides.

Agency: Interior

Total Spending: $12 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 2.7 percent decrease

Discretionary Spending: $11.7 billion

Mandatory Spending: $297 million

Highlights: Obama’s budget plan cuts overall spending for Interior the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar decried mandatory budget cuts for the current year that he said have left the department “in a ditch.”

Budget cuts already imposed have forced the closing of visitor centers at national parks across the country and have forced furloughs for thousands of employees, including U.S. park police, Salazar said. Hundreds of park police officers face 14 unpaid furlough days between now and Sept. 30, Salazar said, and the department has canceled a training class for recruits. In addition, as many as 7,000 young people will not be hired by parks this summer as planned.

Obama’s budget proposal “takes us out of the ditch,” Salazar told reporters Wednesday, but would cut overall spending.

The budget requests $600 million for land and water conservation and for the first time would permanently authorize annual mandatory spending for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, a joint program with Agriculture that protects parks, wildlife refuges, forests, rivers, trails, battlefields, historic and cultural sites.

The budget again floats new fees for the oil and gas industry to pay for the processing of permits and would impose fees on leased parcels where no production is occurring. Officials say the fees would save an estimated $250 million a year and expedite drilling on public lands, but the ideas have made little headway in Congress.

The budget includes $240 million for the agency that oversees offshore drilling, a 10 percent increase over current spending. Officials say the increase would enable the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to improve its response to oil spills, allow for more safety inspections and improve investigations and enforcement.

The budget also boost funding for the America’s Great Outdoors initiative, an Obama program intended to promote outdoor recreation in national parks, wildlife refuges and other public lands.

In a move sure to irk coal-state lawmakers, Obama again calls for changing a fee system designed to clean up abandoned coal mines. States with no abandoned mines would not receive payments.

Agency: Health and Human Services

Total Spending: $949.9 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 5.4 percent increase

Discretionary Spending: $78.3 billion

Mandatory Spending: $871.6 billion

Highlights: The rollout of Obama’s health care law next year drives spending increases in the Health and Human Services budget, but the president is also proposing to trim Medicare costs as he tries to draw Republicans into negotiations to reduce government red ink.

Ninety percent of HHS spending is “mandatory,” meaning it goes for benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid that aren’t subject to routine annual budgeting in Congress.

Under Obama’s health care law, Medicaid spending will rise significantly next year as the program is opened up to low-income people who aren’t currently eligible, mainly adults with no children living at home. Middle-class people who don’t get coverage on the jobs will be eligible for tax credits to help them buy private health insurance, but those costs aren’t reflected in the HHS budget under government accounting practices.

Obama is proposing to cut Medicare spending about $400 billion over 10 years from currently projected levels. In percentage terms, that translates into a single-digit trim for the giant health program that serves seniors and disabled people. The biggest chunk, more than $130 billion, would come from drug company rebates, including a new proposal that speeds up closing Medicare’s prescription drug coverage gap.

Upper middle-class and well-to-do seniors would face higher monthly premiums for outpatient care and prescriptions, an idea that Obama has floated before and that also has Republican support. Newly joining beneficiaries would pay somewhat more for home health care and for outpatient services.

The budget generally holds the line on funding for medical research, with about $31 billion for the National Institutes of Health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gets a boost from a new $40 million program to more quickly track emerging infections and determine if bugs are resistant to antibiotics. And there’s a new $130 million initiative to expand mental health treatment and prevention, focusing on young people.

Agency: Homeland Security

Total Spending: $45.2 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 34.8 percent decrease

Discretionary Spending: $44.6 billion

Mandatory Spending: $572 million

Highlights: Obama has proposed broad budget cuts for the Homeland Security Department to be spread over several agencies, including the Secret Service and the Coast Guard.

The proposal includes a reduction of more than $100 million from the Secret Service budget for protection details for presidential candidates and several million dollars for other special security events. Last year the Secret Service was responsible for costly security details for both Obama as he campaigned for a second term and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney ahead of the November election. The agency was also responsible for providing security for several other international meetings, including the NATO Summit in Chicago. Obama’s budget also proposes tens of millions of dollars in savings from a technology integration program.

The president has also proposed reducing the Coast Guard’s budget for maritime activities by several hundred million dollars. Coast Guard commandant Adm. Robert J. Papp has said his agency has been prepared to reduce air and marine patrol hours because of previous budget cuts, including mandatory government-wide spending reductions implemented earlier this year. Additional budget cuts, he has said, would mean less time on the water and could result in both more drugs and migrants being smuggled into the United States by sea.

Obama’s budget includes proposed cuts of more than $100 million to the Federal Air Marshal program. The suggested cuts for the program that puts armed agents aboard planes come in the wake of a decision by the Transportation Security Administration to allow small knives and other formerly prohibited items, including miniature replica baseball bats, to be carried on planes. Unions representing flight attendants and some law makers have objected and are asking TSA to reconsider the policy change.

The president has also proposed cuts to DHS’s biodefense activities and the agency’s analysis and operations, which includes the Office of Intelligence and Analysis and the Office of Operations and Coordination and Planning. The proposed cuts for biodefense come amid continuing debate over the future of the National Bio- and Agro-Defense Facility that is currently set to be built in Kansas.

Agency: Housing and Urban Development

Total Spending: $47.2 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 50.7 percent decrease

Discretionary Spending: $33.1 billion

Mandatory Spending: $14.1 billion

Highlights: The president is asking for $37.4 billion to provide rental housing assistance for 5.4 million families, including new rental vouchers for homeless veterans. HUD’s programs serve primarily the poor, elderly and disabled.

The president’s budget blueprint calls for $2.8 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program, a modest cut. The program got about $3 billion in fiscal year 2013 according to HUD. States and cities use the money to build streets and sidewalks, provide water and build sewers and make other infrastructure improvements in low-income neighborhoods. The program is popular with local officials struggling to balance budgets.

Obama’s budget request would also provide funding for 10,000 new vouchers for homeless veterans.

Obama calls for a slight increase to $950 million for the HOME Investment Partnerships Program that provides grants to states and local communities for things like buying or rehabilitating affordable housing and rental assistance. The program got $948 million for 2013. It is the largest federal block grant program to state and local governments aimed solely at providing affordable housing for the poor.

At the same time, Obama wants to reduce costs in HUD rental assistance programs by simplifying administrative procedures, doing a better job of targeting rental assistance to the working poor and setting more equitable public housing rents.

Obama is seeking $20 billion for the Housing Choice Voucher program to provide rental assistance to 2.2 million poor families, a modest increase. The program received about $18 billion in 2013, according to HUD. The vouchers are the federal government’s major program to assist low-income families, the elderly and the disabled. Renters in this program, most of whom are poor families with children, seniors or people with disabilities, generally pay 30 to 40 percent of their income to rent and the voucher makes up the difference.

The president is also seeking $726 million for the housing needs native American tribes.

Agency: Justice

Total Spending: $30.5 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 13 percent decrease

Discretionary Spending: $16.3 billion

Mandatory Spending: $14.1 billion

Highlights: Amid the political battle in Washington over gun control, the FBI is proposing to double the capacity of the bureau’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. NICS is used by federally licensed firearms shops to determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives.

On other law enforcement fronts, the FBI is proposing an additional $215 million to support national security, cyber security and criminal investigations of financial fraud and mortgage fraud.

The Justice Department is proposing $166.3 million to alleviate prison overcrowding, using some of the money to begin activating facilities in West Virginia, Mississippi and Thomson, Ill. The Thomson facility being purchased from the state of Illinois was envisioned as a place to house terrorist suspects from Guantanamo Bay. The idea of bringing Gitmo detainees to Thomson stirred political controversy and the Obama administration abandoned it. The Bureau of Prisons has been a focus of growing concern at the department because of tight budgets.

Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder moved $150 million to the prison system from other Justice Department accounts to stave off daily furloughs of 3,570 federal prison staffers. The step was necessary because of the $1.6 billion in budget reductions at the department that took effect March 1. For the fiscal year beginning next Oct. 1, the department is proposing a $6.9 billion budget to run the nation’s 122 federal prisons that hold 222,400 offenders.

Agency: Labor

Total Spending: $72.6 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 33.4 percent decrease

Discretionary Spending: $12.1 billion

Mandatory Spending: $60.5 billion

Highlights: The bulk of proposed cuts at Labor would come from a decrease in mandatory spending on unemployment insurance as the economy improves and more jobless people reenter the work force. Spending on long-term unemployment benefits is also declining because Congress approved a measure last year reducing the current maximum of 99 weeks of unemployment benefits to 73 weeks.

The agency’s discretionary budget would target $100 million in new spending to help military veterans find jobs in the civilian work force, part of the Obama administration’s broader effort to combat high unemployment levels among veterans. Some of the money would go to state grant programs that help disabled veterans find work. The department would also expand programs to help wounded service members who have not left the military, but are about to transition to civilian life. National Guard and reserve members would also be eligible for the first time.

Another $80 million would boost grant money to states for job training services for adults, youth and dislocated workers. It would increase from 5 percent to 7.5 percent the amount of money that governors could use for innovative statewide programs.

In enforcement, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would get $5.9 million to hire more staff to investigate whistleblower allegations. The Wage and Hour Division would see an increase of $3.4 million to improve enforcement of overtime and minimum wage laws as well as the Family and Medical Leave Act.

The Mine Safety and Health Administration would see a $5.8 million increase for investigating safety at coal and other mines, and another $2.5 million to implement recommendations for improved safety following the deadly explosion at the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia.

Agency: NASA

Total Spending: $17.7 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 0.1 percent decrease

Discretionary Spending: $17.7 billion

Mandatory Spending: $0

Highlights: Obama’s budget includes $105 million to start an ambitious joint human-and-robot space mission that may eventually cost about $2.6 billion. The mission would have a robotic spaceship lasso a small asteroid, haul it to near the moon and then spacewalking astronauts would explore the space rock. The idea is to test technologies and methods to protect Earth from being hit by dangerous asteroids and prepare astronauts for a future mission to Mars. Some of the initial money would be used to better scan the solar system for asteroids.

The proposal increases by almost $300 million money to help private companies develop commercial spaceships to carry astronauts to the International Space Station instead of the Russian Soyuz rocket and the now-retired space shuttle fleet. Republicans in Congress have at times balked at increases in this program. It also generally continues current spending levels for NASA’s biggest ticket items, $5 billion a year for science, $3 billion a year for the International Space Station, construction of a new heavy-lift rocket and a capsule to hold astronauts, and what will eventually be an $8 billion replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope.

NASA’s education spending would drop by $45 million _ nearly one-third of the agency’s education budget _ because science education would be consolidated and augmented at other agencies, especially the Department of Education.

After sequestration, NASA’s 2013 spending has dropped to about $16.6 billion.

Agency: Securities and Exchange Commission

Total Spending: $1.67 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 27 percent increase

Highlights: The sizable increase being sought for the agency that polices Wall Street is notable in a budget proposal that overall stresses belt-tightening for the federal government.

The SEC’s powers and oversight duties were expanded by the financial overhaul law enacted in response to the 2008 crisis that plunged the country into the deepest recession since the 1930s. The agency has been straining under a load of investigations, prosecutions and corporate reviews, as it supervises about 35,000 public companies, mutual funds, investment managers and other entities.

The request for fiscal 2014 includes funding to hire 131 new investigators and litigators in the SEC’s enforcement division.

The SEC in recent years brought civil charges with record penalties against Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup, among others, for their conduct in the years leading up to the financial crisis. But critics have said those settlements left top executives at the banks free from blame.

Mary Jo White, the former federal prosecutor who was sworn in as the new SEC chairman Wednesday, said in a statement that the increased funding for the agency “will help assure that our financial markets continue to be the world’s safest and most efficient while providing needed capital for jobs. And these funds would do that without increasing the federal deficit,” White said.

The SEC gets its funding from fees that companies pay to register new stock, but it is subject to the congressional budget process in the same way as other federal agencies.

Agency: State

Total Spending: $47.3 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 17.7 percent decrease

Discretionary Spending: $51.8 billion

Mandatory Spending: $0

Highlights: Improving security at America’s 274 diplomatic posts abroad in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the mission in Benghazi, Libya, is a main aim of Obama’s proposed 2014 State Department budget. The proposal calls for spending more than $4 billion on security upgrades and additional protective personnel, as recommended by an expert panel convened after the Benghazi attack that killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.

Significant reductions in the proposed budget reflect the Obama administration’s scaling down of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although contingency programs in those frontline states account for $6.8 billion of the proposed budget, that is $4.2 billion less than requested in 2012. It includes $1.7 billion for civilian programs in Iraq, $3.1 billion for Afghanistan and $1.3 billion for Pakistan.

The budget honors commitments in assistance to U.S. allies in the Mideast: Israel, $3.1 billion in military aid, Egypt, $1.5 billion in military aid and economic support, and $660 million for Jordan. And, it contains a request for $580 million for programs to encourage reform in the Middle East and North Africa in the aftermath of the revolutions that have rocked the Arab world.

It also earmarks $8.3 billion for global health initiatives, including $6 billion for AIDS programs, $1.1 billion for food security and $481 million for efforts to combat climate change. In addition, the budget sets aside $4.1 billion for humanitarian assistance around the world.

Agency: Transportation

Total Spending: $127 billon

Percentage Change from 2013: 50.2 percent increase

Discretionary Spending: $16.3 billion

Mandatory Spending: $110.8 billion

Highlights: Obama’s proposed transportation budget includes a significant funding increase _ $50 billion _ to pay for improving the nation’s roads, bridges, transit systems, border crossings, railways and runways. It’s similar to proposals that he has called for before, and something that Congress has not been willing to provide.

Forty billion dollars would be used for “Fix-it-First” investments under a program Obama highlighted in his State of the Union address. The program, Obama said, would not only put people to work but it would support critical infrastructure projects _ such as urgent repairs to roads and fixing nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country.  The other $10 billion would help spur state and local innovation in infrastructure development.

Transportation Deputy Secretary John Porcari said at a briefing Wednesday that the $50 billion program would be paid for with savings offsets elsewhere but would not elaborate.

As for the rest of the department’s budget, the president proposed a five-year, $40 billion rail reauthorization program. It would upgrade existing intercity passenger rail services, develop new high speed rail corridors, and aim to strengthen the overall competitiveness of the freight rail system.

The budget proposal would also provide money to modernize the nation’s aviation system by boosting safety and capacity, with $1 billion for the Next Generation Air Transport System.

Agency: Treasury Department

Total Spending: $500.2 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 5.9 percent decrease

Discretionary Spending: $13.3 billion

Mandatory Spending: $486.9 billion

Highlights: The president’s budget would boost discretionary spending by 6.1 percent from 2013, providing additional resources in several areas the administration considers to be priorities.

The budget would increase support to the Internal Revenue Service to boost efforts to enforce the tax laws to prevent tax evasion and cheating. The budget would also modernize the IRS so the agency can provide better service to taxpayers including efforts to provide faster refunds to taxpayers.

The budget would also provide resources to implement the 2010 Dodd-Frank Act passed by Congress to better regulate the financial system in the wake of the 2009 financial crisis. It would also support efforts to wind down the Troubled Asset Relief Program which provided government support to companies during the financial crisis.

The budget would also streamline the operations at the U.S. Mint, which produces the nation’s coins, and the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, which produces U.S. currency. The budget proposes legislation to grant the Treasury secretary greater flexibility to save money by changing the composition of coins to more cost-effective metals.

Agency: Veterans Affairs

Total Spending: $149.5 billion

Percentage Change from 2013: 10 percent increase

Discretionary Spending: $63.5 billion

Mandatory Spending: $86 billion

Highlights: The president is proposing to increase spending by nearly $300 million for that part of the VA responsible for handling disability claims, an increase of more than 13 percent. More veterans are seeking compensation for wounds and illness incurred or aggravated while on active duty. The VA is struggling to keep up and the number of claims pending longer than 125 days has soared over the past four years.

The VA estimates that it will treat 6.5 million veterans in the coming fiscal year at its medical centers and outpatient clinics. Overall spending for VA health care will increase by about 2.5 percent, but certain services would grow at a much faster pace. For example, an increase of more than 13 percent is sought for mental health care, and an increase of 15 percent is sought for geriatric care.

The budget proposes to pare spending on major constructions projects, but includes money for the completion of a mental health center in Seattle and for the addition of three new national cemeteries: two in Florida and one in Omaha, Neb. The VA’s spending on research would flatten under the president’s budget.

The president is also repeating his call for establishing a Veterans Job Corps, which would dedicate $1 billion over five years putting veterans to work improving public lands and working in law enforcement and firefighting jobs, but the same proposal went nowhere last year.

Veterans who get monthly disability payments would get slightly stingier cost-of-living increases through an inflation adjustment known as “chained CPI.” About 500,000 low-income, war-time veterans and survivors would be exempted from that change.

Violence Against Women Act goes to House after Senate passage

The Senate voted on Feb. 12 to renew the Violence Against Women Act with new assurances that LGBT people, immigrants and Native American women will have equal access to the act’s anti-domestic violence programs.

Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said, “To be the target of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence or stalking is terrifying and traumatic. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are not immune from this violence and should not also fear being turned away from life-saving services because of who they are. Reauthorization of this inclusive Violence Against Women Act will go a long way toward ensuring everyone has access to the critical resources they need. We thank the Senate for passing this bill and urge the House to swiftly follow suit.”

The 78-22 Senate vote to reauthorize the two-decade-old act that has shielded millions of women from abuse and helped reduce national rates of domestic violence turns the focus to the House, where Republican leaders are working to come up with their own version.

“Over 160 million women across the country are watching and waiting to see if the House will act on this bill and finally provide them the protections from violence they deserve,” said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

The act expired in 2011, putting efforts to improve its many federal programs on hold. Last year both the Republican-led House and the Democratic-controlled Senate passed renewal bills, but they were unable to reach a compromise.

This year House Republicans, sensitive to their lackluster showing among women voters in the November election, have vowed to move expeditiously on the issue. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., has taken the lead in negotiating the terms of a House bill.

On Feb. 11, 17 House Republicans wrote Cantor and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, urging immediate action. The act’s “programs save lies, and we must allow states and communities to build upon the successes of current VAWA programs so that we can help even more people,” they wrote.

The Senate bill, while promoted by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and other Democrats, is cosponsored by a Republican, Mike Crapo of Idaho, and garnered 23 Republican votes. All 20 women members of the Senate voted for the bill.

President Barack Obama, in a statement, praised the Senate for working across party lines to pass the bill and said: “the bill passed by the Senate will help reduce homicides that occur from domestic violence, improve the criminal justice response to rape and sexual assault, address the high rates of dating violence experienced by young women, and provide justice to the most vulnerable among us.”

During debate, the major divisive issue was a provision that allows tribal courts to prosecute non-Indians accused of assaulting Indian women on reservations. Republicans, arguing that subjecting non-Indians to Indian courts was unconstitutional, offered two amendments to strip that section from the bill, but both were defeated.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., who chairs the Indian Affairs Committee, said Indian women are raped and assaulted at 2 1/2 times the national rate, and less than 50 percent of domestic violence cases on reservations, often far from federal courts, are prosecuted. “This is about the life and death of women who need a better system to help prosecute those who are committing serious crimes against them.”

Supporters of the bill say a 1978 Supreme Court decision that denies Indian tribes the power to try non-Indian citizens makes an exception for proceedings that are acceptable to Congress. The National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women says the provision is tailored to make sure that all rights guaranteed under the Constitution are given to non-Native defendants.

The Indian court issue is expected to be a hurdle as lawmakers try to reconcile the Senate bill with the eventual House bill. Two House Republicans – Reps. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who is of Native American heritage, and Darrell Issa of California – have been pushing a compromise that would give defendants the right to request that their trial be moved to a federal court if they felt they were not getting a fair trial. Others have argued that those tried in Indian courts should have better defined rights to appeal to federal courts.

The original 1994 Violence Against Women Act, also known as VAWA, was negotiated by Vice President Joe Biden, then a senator from Delaware, and Biden has been in contact with Cantor in the efforts to come up with a new bill.

The White House, which supports the Senate bill, says that among the positive changes created by VAWA are a decline in intimate partner violence by 67 percent between 1993 and 2010 and an increase in victims reporting domestic and sexual violence to police, resulting in more arrests.

The act provides grants to state and local authorities for legal assistance, transitional housing, law enforcement training, stalker databases and domestic violence hotlines. The Senate bill extends the act for five years and provides $659 million for VAWA programs, down 17 percent from the last reauthorization in 2005.

The legislation includes a provision, backed by a bipartisan group headed by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, that would speed up the analysis of DNA evidence in rape cases. There’s now a rape kit backlog estimated at 400,000, with evidence that might link an assailant to a victim now sitting on police department shelves for months and even years.

Provisions promoted by Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the Senate’s second-ranked Democrat, address sexual assault in immigration detention facilities and help ensure that child sex trafficking victims are referred for treatment rather than prosecuted as criminals.

The Senate on Feb. 12 also approved an amendment by Leahy reauthorizing a law that funds programs to combat human trafficking both inside and country and around the world.