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.
House Passes Agriculture Appropriations Bill, Bill Ends Grain Embargo, Safeguards Integrity of 1996 Farm Bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today the House passed by a vote of 373-48 the FY 1999 Agriculture Appropriations Act (H.R. 4101) overturing President Clinton's grain embargo, funding $56 billion in agricultural programs, and rejecting amendments which would have broken the promises made to American farmers under the 1996 Farm Bill.
As passed by the House today, H.R.4101 protects U.S. farmers from the wide-ranging sanctions President Clinton imposed on Pakistan under Section 102 of the Arms Export Control Act, by clarifying Congressional intent to exempt GSM credit guarantees under the law.
"I am pleased that the Administration has indicated its support for this legislative language. It's truly unfortunate that it became necessary to take this action because I strongly believe it was within the President's authority to exclude USDA programs for food and agricultural commodities from these sanctions," said Congressman Bob Smith (R-OR), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee during Floor debate yesterday.
Due to tremendous resource constraints and competing priorities, House appropriators deleted $120 million in funding for a new mandatory research program authorized by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act. The Senate version of the Agriculture Appropriations Act retains this funding, and Chairman Smith expressed his hope that it will be restored during House-Senate Conference.
"I would like to encourage my friend and colleague, Chairman Skeen, to work with his counterparts in the Senate to re-prioritize programs so that they can restore these important funds. I understand that this will be a difficult challenge, but it is essential that this program be funded," Smith said during Floor debate yesterday.
Specific funding under H.R. 4101 includes: $1.5 billion in federal crop insurance, $2.2 billion for rural economic and community development programs, $609.3 million for the Food Safety Inspection Service, $36 billion for domestic food programs, and $784 million for conservation programs.
In addition, the House also rejected amendments to the bill that would have dismantled the peanut and sugar programs, leaving in place the reforms begun under the 1996 Freedom to Farm Bill.
"These amendments would have cut our farmer's safety net by making it more difficult to buy crop insurance for peanuts and sugar. Today, by rejecting the amendments, we are following through on the promises we made to rural communities throughout our nation," Smith said.
The Appropriations bill also waives the statute of limitations for civil rights discrimination disputes against the USDA for complaints filed between January 1, 1983 and December 31, 1996.
"For the past two years the Agriculture Committee and I have worked to ensure that the hundreds of black farmers who have been victims of racial discrimination in the operation of USDA programs have access to judicial and administrative remedies. With the passage of today's bill, persons who have filed complaints of racial and other discrimination will be able to seek redress in the federal court system, a privilege previously not available because of statutory limitations," Smith said.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District -- which includes most of eastern, southern, and central Oregon -- in the U.S. House of Representatives.