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.
President's Signature Needed for Emergency Aid to Farmers
Producers desperately needing $8.7 billion in emergency aid have waited more than a week for the president's signature on the aid legislation that his spokesmen have said the president will sign -- although they will not say when. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-TX) noted that producers could have been halfway toward receiving promised aid by now. The president's 8-day delay now adds to the 14 days that USDA is expected to take to get checks to producers after the president's signature on the bill. Congress immediately delivered the legislation to the White House on the evening of its final passage, October 13.
"If the president had signed the bill soon after it came to him, farmers would be getting their checks next week," said Combest. "Indications all along from the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and from the president's spokesmen indicate he has made the decision to sign the farm relief bill, yet the president makes farmers wait. I think that producers and Congress have been more than patient."
USDA has indicated it needs two weeks to process checks that will get $5.5 billion of the aid delivered quickly through the customary transition payment formula, which is already calculated for each farmer. Congress insisted on the transition payment method of delivering a large portion of the aid, in order to prevent USDA from repeating last year's 8-month delay of releasing payments in June 1999 that were authorized by Congress in October 1998.