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Vela, Costa Opening Statements at Hearing to Review the Implementation of Federal Farm and Disaster Programs

Washington, September 19, 2019

WASHINGTON – House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Chairman Filemon Vela of Texas, and Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture Chairman Jim Costa of California delivered the following remarks during a joint hearing today to review the implementation and capacity of several key programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture designed to aid farmers, ranchers and rural communities.

From Chairman Vela, as prepared for delivery:

“Thank you and welcome to this joint hearing of the Subcommittees on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management; and Livestock and Foreign Agriculture. I’m pleased to be joined by my colleague and fellow Chairman, Mr. Costa, as well as my esteemed Ranking Member Mr. Thompson, and the Livestock and Foreign Affairs Ranking Member Mr. Rouzer. Welcome also to our Chairman Collin Peterson and my fellow Texan, Ranking Member Mike Conaway.

“This first joint hearing comes at a very important time for farmers. USDA, and, in particular, the Food Production and Conservation mission area and the Farm Service Agency, is in the middle of a huge job.

“FPAC and FSA are currently at the helm of three critical but separate efforts to address the needs of farmers, ranchers and rural communities in our country. The Market Facilitation Program, which is meant to assist those farmers most directly harmed by the Administration’s trade war. The expanded Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program, or WHIP-Plus, which will aid in rural recovery from natural disasters. And programs like ARC, PLC, DMC and other supports within Title I of the farm bill, which provide a risk management framework for farmers and ranchers.

“It’s our job on this Committee to ensure that these programs are structured and implemented in a way that can quickly, efficiently and most directly serve the farmers, ranchers and small towns who need them right now.

“It’s also our job to ensure that these programs are implemented in a way that is fair, transparent, and consistent with the law. We can absolutely get farmers the help they need while still conducting appropriate and necessary oversight.

“I do have concerns about the path that USDA is on, especially when it comes to staffing.  I hear from farmers all the time about understaffed local FSA offices.  Resources at FSA are stretched thin and I want to hear today what plans USDA has to make sure these resources are managed effectively. On top of that, there are many media stories about software glitches and unprepared staff struggling to process these disaster payments.

“It’s clear that USDA wants to find efficiencies, but is USDA prepared to make the changes needed to successfully deliver these important services, even if that means increasing, not decreasing, staff and resources. I look forward to hearing your testimony today, Mr. Under Secretary.”

From Chairman Costa, as prepared for delivery:

 “Thank you for joining us today. I’m happy to hold this important joint hearing with the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management subcommittee to evaluate the safety net the USDA provides for farmers. 

“In my role as Chairman of the subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture, I am very interested in overseeing the roll out of the new Dairy Margin Coverage program and the Administration’s Market Facilitation Program. The Dairy Margin Coverage sign-up for 2019 was set to end tomorrow but it’s important to give dairy farmers every opportunity to sign up for this new program. I hope that there can be a little flexibility with that deadline this year given that this is a brand new program but we don’t want to delay sign up for 2020 either. Nationwide, the program has already triggered over a quarter of a billion dollars in help to dairy farmers this year.

“When it comes to trade, the President has said that farmers are better off with Market Facilitation Program payments than they were with the access they had to China before the trade war. The farmers I talk to disagree, and the conversations I’ve had with USDA leadership makes me think you might disagree as well. Today, I’ve got a few questions to ask about how the Market Facilitation Program was set up and how you’re implementing it now.

“Chairman Vela, thank you for agreeing to host this joint hearing with me. Under Secretary Northey, thank you for joining us. I look forward to your testimony.”
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