‘Montana producers are still waiting’ for Last Season’s Disaster Relief, Tester Tells Farm Service Agency

Tester secured $1.5 billion for farmers and fixed disaster relief program to include Montanans facing losses

Northeastern Montana farmers who were hit hard by crop losses last year due to excessive moisture still have not received disaster relief funds, and U.S. Senator Jon Tester—who secured an expansion of the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) to cover these farmers and increased funding for the program by $1.5 billion to pay for it—is taking the Trump Administration to task for the nearly 12-month delay.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that nearly a year after securing this fix, I am hearing from Montana farmers that they are still waiting for payments,” wrote Tester in a letter to Farm Service Agency (FSA) Administrator Richard Fordyce.

“What is the latest date that Montana farmers should expect payments from the WHIP+ program related to 2019 quality loss, excessive moisture, or drought? I am disappointed in Farm Service Agency’s inability to administer this program as Congress intended, and deliver WHIP+ payments to producers impacted by excessive moisture. I look forward to receiving your action plan as to how FSA can correct this situation for Montana farmers, and ensure that going forward WHIP+ does not experience a one-year delay before paying producers.”

Since September 2019, Tester has been fighting to get relief for producers in Eastern Montana facing quality losses due to excessive rain and flooding in the region, and he repeatedly pushed Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to use his authority to support these farmers through the existing WHIP+ guidelines. When Secretary Perdue refused, Tester used the 2019 omnibus appropriations bill to expand the WHIP+ program to include quality loss, drought, and excessive moisture and increased its funding by $1.5 billion to cover the new categories.

Tester was the only member of Montana’s delegation to vote for the legislation containing the fix.

Following Tester’s fix, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a disaster declaration for 17 Montana counties, including Cascade, Chouteau, Pondera, Glacier, Teton, Dawson, Prairie, Toole, McCone, Richland, Roosevelt, Wibaux, Daniels, Rosebud, Sheridan, Treasure, and Valley. The FSA opened signup for disaster assistance on March 23, 2020 for producers to apply for eligible losses of drought (D3 or above) and excessive moisture. However, this money has been slow to make it to farmers, if it has made it to them at all.

As the only working farmer in the U.S. Senate, Tester has been a champion for farmers and ranchers across the country. Earlier this year, he attached his Seeding Rural Resilience Act, which will help combat rising rates of farmer suicide, to the must pass National Defense Authorization Act. Additionally, the Trump Administration recently adopted his Restoring Rural Residencies Act into a rule change to bring more medical professionals into rural hospitals.

Read Tester’s full letter HERE.