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 Problems Reviewed for Productive Responses
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Citing declining prices, multiple-year crop losses and adverse weather, Congressman Robert F. Smith (R-OR), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and Ranking Member Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) brought USDA Secretary Dan Glickman, farm economists, and producer representatives together at a hearing Thursday on the state of the nation's farm economy.
"If we are to be both responsible and responsive, it is critical that we not only understand our own problems, but those of our neighbor," Smith said. "Congress has taken action to respond to conditions in the farm economy and we will continue to act."
"Before the August recess, I expect that other ideas to address the disaster and income problems in farming will surface almost daily. We have a responsibility to consider each of them," said Smith.
"The agriculture economies in many regions across the country are suffering terribly from low commodity prices, poor yields, crop disease and other weather-related disasters," said Ranking Committee Member Charlie Stenholm. "It is essential that we take the time to examine these conditions more closely in order to ascertain the adequacy of the safety net provided to farmers after the passage of the 1996 Freedom to Farm bill."
Smith cited introduction of The Emergency Farm Financial Relief Act (H.R. 4265) to allow farmers the option of receiving all of the Agricultural Market Transition Act (AMTA) contract payments for FY 1999 immediately after the beginning of the fiscal year. $5.5 billion would be available to farmers as much as one year early to help them cope with the cash shortage they now experience due to low prices. Annual payments can now be made twice a year, in December or January and again in September. The bill leaves the option of early payments with the farmer who can then make the decision on the basis of personal circumstances.
The Senate passed its version of the Emergency Farm Financial Relief Act by voice vote on Thursday night, and the House will vote on passage Monday, August 3rd.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District — which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon — in the U.S. House of Representatives. Stenholm represents Texas' Seventeenth Congressional District, a sprawling agricultural district in west central Texas.