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.
Farm Emergency Aid Awaits President's Signature
Emergency farm aid designed to place money quickly in the hands of financially struggling producers cleared Congress Wednesday afternoon, matching the Secretary of Agriculture's highest estimated disaster funding needs. As designed by Congress, within two weeks of the president's signature the $8.7 billion aid package will deliver $5.5 billion to farmers, each receiving an amount equal to their 1999 transition payment.
In addition, the bill allows producers to collect their anticipated yearly transition payment immediately, in essence doubling the amount of cash infusion into rural areas at a time when severe weather has destroyed harvests, and poor market prices have withered the value of crops that do survive.
"America's producers know that in very short order they will have in hand this greatly-needed assistance they have been counting on," said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-Texas). "The amount of disaster aid is at the top end of funding estimates that the Secretary of Agriculture testified was needed. In addition to this aid, Congress is addressing the producer's more lasting needs through legislation for expanded crop and livestock revenue insurance coverage, as well as my agenda for an early review of current farm policy."
"Senate action was the final hurdle in getting some much-needed relief out to farm country," said Charlie Stenholm (D-Texas), the Committee's ranking minority member. "Now it's time for Congress to roll up its sleeves and get to work developing a comprehensive agriculture policy that provides a real safety net that protects the nation's producers from weather disasters and low prices."
The emergency assistance within H.R. 1906 (FY 2000 Agriculture Appropriations) includes:
Market loss payments of $5.544 billion
Oilseed assistance providing $475 million in direct payments
Production loss payments of $1.2 billion for 1999 crop and livestock weather losses
Crop insurance premium discount of 30 percent continued in the 2000 crop year
Cotton Step 2 replenishment
Increasing payment limitation for Loan Deficiency Payments (LDP's) and Marketing Loan Gains (MLG's) from $75,000 to $150,000
Livestock assistance totaling $200 million
Dairy assistance of $125 million
Extension of the Dairy Price Support Program and suspension of Recourse Loan
Peanut market assistance to quota/non-quota producers equal to 5 percent of loan
Suspension of the assessment on sugar producers
Assistance to tobacco farmers in the form of $328 million in direct payments
Mandatory livestock price reporting
Authority for producers to collect transition payments at any time during the fiscal year
$56 million for staffing needs at the Farm Service Agency using unspent USDA accounts
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