Failure to Act on Farm Bill, Postal Reform Hurting Rural Communities

Both Bills Passed Senate with Bipartisan Support

House leadership yesterday announced it would not consider the 2012 Farm Bill before going home for the August district work period. It would instead pass an emergency drought assistance package that would make drastic cuts to important conservation programs for Colorado. Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is calling on House leadership to bring up and pass both the long term Farm Bill as well as the postal reform bill to provide certainty for rural communities across the country.

“Colorado’s rural communities are paying the price for the House’s punts on these bills,” Bennet said. “Both the Farm Bill and the postal reform bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support and are vital for rural communities in our state. The House should do whatever it takes to get the job done. Rural communities across the country are depending on it.”

The five-year Farm Bill extension includes programs to help farmers, ranchers and rural communities cope with drought, such as livestock disaster programs, that are paid for as part of a bipartisan agreement that includes $23 million in deficit reduction along with reforms to eliminate direct payments and to strengthen crop insurance programs.  The Farm Bill also includes a strong conservation title that Coloradans worked closely with Bennet, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources, to preserve. Bennet amended the Senate-passed bill to give land owners and producers more opportunities to enter into conservation easement agreements. Bennet also worked with Senator Mark Udall to include additional resources to mitigate the bark beetle epidemic, which continues to pose a serious threat to forests in Colorado.

The emergency drought assistance bill the House plans to consider contains some, but not all, of the same provisions to assist communities struck with drought that are already included in the Farm Bill. However, the drought bill is funded by cuts to conservation programs, undermining many of the very initiatives that help conserve Colorado’s scarce water resources in the first place.

As the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) continues to inch closer to default, the House is also sitting on the 21st Century Postal Service Act, which the Senate passed in May. Bennet successfully fought to include several changes in the bill to protect service, particularly in rural Colorado, where many community post offices are facing the possibility of closure. The bill includes an amendment Bennet introduced with Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) to arm local rural communities facing post office or postal processing facility closures with an advocate in the process. The bill would also address future retiree health care payments, which the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) was forced to skip this month for the first time in its history. USPS is expected to miss another payment due early next month.