Senators: Make Ag Disaster Assistance a priority

Baucus and Tester Want June 1 Deadline For Vital Program

(Washington D.C.)- Montana’s U.S. Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester sent a letter to U.S.  Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today, pushing the department to quickly implement agriculture disaster assistance programs as required by the 2008 Farm Bill.

In the letter, Baucus and Tester insist the first ag disaster signups begin by June 1st of this year. The senators pointed out that several other Farm Bill provisions, including disaster payments for salmon fishermen, were put into place as early as September of 2008. 

Ag disaster assistance payments help farmers and ranchers recoup losses after natural disasters destroy crops or livestock. The payments are vital for agricultural producers and thus to Montana’s economy.

“This is outrageous,” Baucus said. “Montana’s farmers and ranchers must have access to reliable disaster assistance. That’s why I fought to make sure the provision was included in the Farm Bill and it’s why I’ll keep USDA’s feet to the fire to make sure this gets done.”

“Ag disaster assistance is a safety net family farmers and ranchers need to sustain our nation’s heritage of agriculture,” said Tester, who helped write the Farm Bill as one of only two farmers in the Senate. “The Department of Agriculture has dragged its feet for too long and it’s time for action.”

Baucus, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, a senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and a key author of the 2008 Farm Bill, wrote and included the ag disaster provision in the bill, which became law in May of last year.

Baucus and Tester’s letter was signed by ten other U.S. senators.

-Letter Pasted Below-

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 noting 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 fishermen 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 as soon as possible 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 manner.


U.S. Senator Max Baucus
U.S. Senator Jon Tester