Leahy: Vermont Dairy Farmers On The Brink Of Big Win On MILC Extension

Sen. Patrick Leahy says Vermont dairy farmers Sunday night were on the brink of a major victory – renewal of the MILC safety net program – as Congress raced this weekend to wrap up the year’s legislative session.

Leahy, a conferee on the budget reconciliation package where the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) Program extension has been at issue, said broad agreement now has been reached to lock in the two-year extension of the program, until the next farm bill in 2007.  Leahy, a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the panel’s former chairman, had led the fight to include the MILC extension in the Senate’s version of the budget package.  It was not in the version of the package passed earlier this fall by the House.  Leahy said conferees have also agreed to restore a 2.5 percent across-the-board cut in the MILC program, as provided in the Senate’s version of the bill, which will mean 2.5 percent higher MILC payments to farmers.

The final package is expected to be introduced tonight and debated by the House and Senate early this week.

“For thousands of farmers, this will be a bright spot of news that will let them plan more confidently for the future,” said Leahy.  “It has been a hard-fought struggle against heavy odds, but now we are on the verge of restoring this vital safety net so it will be there once again when farmers need it.”    

Leahy also announced a key win on another front – the efforts he has led to minimize or eliminate Food Stamp program cuts that would affect needy families across the nation.  He said that as of Sunday night, the final version of the bill no longer proposes any Food Stamp cuts at all.  Deep Food Stamp cuts -- $697 million, over five years -- proposed in the House-passed version of the package would have removed thousands of food stamp families from the program, nationwide.  During Senate consideration of the budget bill Leahy successfully worked with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) to exclude any Food Stamp cuts.  During conference negotiations Leahy again teamed with Chambliss to protect Food Stamp funding.

“Senator Chambliss deserves high marks and our appreciation for supporting the MILC extension and for resisting the House’s Food Stamp cuts,” said Leahy.

The MILC program expired Sept. 30.  Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.) and Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) both also strongly support the MILC extension.  Leahy, Jeffords and Sanders worked together to create the program -- which is modeled on the former Northeast Dairy Compact – in the 2002 farm bill.  Since then the MILC program has brought more than $45 million in countercyclical payments to Vermont’s dairy farmers. 

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