01.28.08

Leahy Untangles USDA Red Tape, Freeing Up To $5 M. In Flood Disaster Relief For Vermont Dairy Farmers

WASHINGTON (Monday, Jan. 28) – Senator Patrick Leahy Monday succeeded in convincing the U.S. Department of Agriculture(USDA) to untangle red tape that was preventing Vermont dairy farmers from getting flood disaster aid approved last year by Congress.  The rules change, issued today by USDA, will mean up to $5 million in additional disaster relief in Vermont.

Last year, Leahy worked to make sure Vermont farmers hit by spring floods were covered in a farm disaster relief package crafted by Congress. (PL 110-28).  But in implementing the program, USDA wrote regulations that only cover losses suffered within the calendar year.  The timing glitch left in the lurch many Vermont dairy farmers, whose feed crops were wiped out in last year’s spring floods and who then had to buy replacement feed this winter, in the new calendar year. 

Leahy has been pressing USDA behind the scenes to fix the rules, but officials dragged their feet.  Last week he used his leverage on the Senate Agriculture Committee to press the issue.  Leahy is the most senior member of the Agriculture Committee of either party and is also the panel’s former chairman.  First he queried the nominee to be the next Secretary of Agriculture – former North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer – about the issue, during the Agriculture Committee’s consideration of Schafer’s nomination.  When Schafer’s first answer fell short, Leahy signaled that he would not agree to Schafer’s speedy confirmation until the agency agreed to solve the problem.

On Monday morning Leahy got the answer he was looking for.  Administration officials told Leahy that USDA will promptly issue a new directive to allow compensation to producers whose losses stretch beyond one calendar year, and later Monday morning, they did.  The change will steer as much as $5 million more to Vermont farmers.

Leahy said, “The spring floods hit Vermont farmers hard enough.  Glitch or no glitch, farmers shouldn’t have to take another hit from their own government.  I’m glad common sense prevailed so this disaster relief can reach the farmers in Vermont who need it.”

 

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