Rep. Austin Scott, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, held a public hearing to review the impact of enforcement activities by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on specialty crop growers. Specifically, Subcommittee Members addressed growing concerns that DOL is using the "Hot Goods" provision under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) in an arbitrary manner against producers of perishable agricultural commodities without regard for the inevitable destruction of the product and significant economic hardship inflicted on farmers and their employees.
Chairman Pushes USDA for Farm Disaster Relief Results
U.S. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-Texas) is holding Washington bureaucrats at USDA accountable for failing to deliver farm disaster aid to producers authorized by Congress nearly four-and-a-half months ago.
Chairman Combest said the latest USDA-announced delay in distributing disaster relief payments push livestock relief payments until April and crop disaster checks to farmers until May. Chairman Combest noted with serious concern the latest in a series of what he declares is a failure by USDA to meet the needs of producers.
"The House Agriculture Committee gave the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture near-complete authority to provide farm disaster relief with nearly $6 billion, but farmers will go through planting season with very little help from USDA's Washington bureaucrats. Help is many months past producers' expectations and the Department's own promises," said Combest.
Chairman Combest pointed out already overdue regulations and application backlogs will only be made worse by the President's planned employee cuts directly affecting those who help farmers.
"Farmers grow crops, and USDA's contribution is helping farmers clear the paperwork hurdles, yet their management keeps trying to eliminate employees who help farmers in the field," said Combest. "When USDA wanted to cut 1100 agents who process applications, we refused to allow it, but now in the middle of a farm income crisis, USDA will again try to cut 752 Farm Service Agency employees next year."
"I do not intend to allow producers' needs to go unanswered because of bureaucratic failure from Washington. We all have a lot of work to do this year to help producers through these trying times, but it will be all for nothing if the government cannot deliver what Congress provides."
Chairman Combest will call U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman to explain the delays to the nation's farmers and ranchers during a hearing of the House Agriculture Committee the week of March 8.
Delay problems within USDA include:
Loan Deficiency Payment backlogs running more than two months behind — just for applications
Crop disaster signup of February 1 through March 12, now delayed through April 9
At least one-month's delay for making livestock disaster payments. Signup began in late November and was to have concluded February 5, but USDA is unable to finalize regulations governing the assistance
USDA has concentrated its staff reductions in the areas that directly serve producers in their counties (by next budget year, cutting Farm Service Agency field staff by almost one-third).
7-year delay in streamlining the Preferred Lender Program authorized by Congress to reduce operating loan applications.