Disaster Payments Assured to Farmers Not Possible Until Program Rules Are Issued - In Personal Letter, Bennet Joins Baucus, Others in Urging Secretary Vilsack to Make Agricultural Disaster Assistance a Priority
Washington, D.C. - Michael Bennet, Senator for Colorado and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today announced his push to quickly implement disaster programs that were passed in the Farm Bill but have not yet been implemented. Payments for several disaster programs should have already been made for losses that occurred in 2008, but regulations still have yet to be published for the new programs.
In an effort to expedite the much-needed payments, Bennet signed a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging the agency to quickly develop all applicable disaster program application processes and forms so that sign-ups can begin no later than June, 2009.
"We should always work to protect our farmers and it is disappointing that programs crucial to helping them thrive after disasters hit have yet to be implemented," Bennet said. "I am urging the USDA to move quickly so that we can get the application process started and put much-deserved payments into the hands of our farmers."
The Farm Bill includes five disaster assistance programs: The Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program, the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Livestock Forage Program, the Tree Assistance Program and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey bees and Farm-Raised Fish Program. These programs are designed to comprehensively address agricultural disasters nationwide in a fiscally responsible way. Despite inclusion in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 which passed in May of last year, no disaster program regulations have been issued and consequently no program signups have been announced nor payments issued.
The full copy of the letter, written by Senator Max Baucus, and signed by Bennet and eleven other Senators, is included below:
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 20250-0002
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We are writing concerning the delayed implementation of disaster programs authorized in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 (Farm Bill), which initially passed in May 2008. Today, nearly ten months later, no disaster program signups have been announced, and consequently no payments issued for any of the Farm Bill disaster programs. In fact, no disaster program regulations have been published.
It's worth nothing that the Department of Agriculture began issuing payments for the most recent ad hoc disaster programs authorized in 2007 within six months of passage. As an even more striking disparity, disaster payments for salmon fisherman authorized in the Farm Bill were issued seven months ago by the Department of Commerce. We find it very disappointing that the Department of Commerce has issued disaster payments months before the Department of Agriculture has promulgated regulations.
The disaster assistance programs authorized in the Farm Bill are designed to comprehensively address agriculture disasters nationwide in a fiscally responsible manner. Primary advantages of a standing disaster program are that assistance is dependable, and that assistance is available immediately after a disaster occurs.
The Farm Bill includes five disaster assistance programs; the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program, the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Livestock Forage Program, the Tree Assistance Program and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey bees and Farm-Raised Fish Program.
Although final loss calculations for the SURE Program cannot be made until this summer, no statutory provision prohibits USDA from taking applications and issuing payments for all the other disaster programs for losses incurred in 2008 and thus far in 2009.
In closing, we request that USDA more expeditiously develop all applicable disaster program application processes and application forms so that disaster program signups will begin no later than June 1, 2009, and appropriate payments issued shortly thereafter. We appreciate your attention to this matter and look forward to working with you to ensure that implementation of the disaster programs authorized in the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 is completed in a timely matter.