Vermont dairy officials call for federal relief

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(Host) Vermont dairy officials say it’s critical for Congress to pass an emergency agriculture disaster relief bill in the next few weeks to help hundreds of Vermont farmers survive through the next few months.

But the outlook for bill is very uncertain because the Bush Administration is opposing the measure.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) How important is the passage of a federal bill that would allocate $54 million in grant money to Vermont dairy farmers who’ve suffered crop losses this spring and summer?

Agriculture Secretary Steve Kerr told members of the state’s Emergency Board earlier this week that a special state appropriation of $8.6 million will certainly help farmers with their short-term cash flow, but Kerr says the federal money is the real key to survival:

(Kerr) “The big payoff is the $54 million. That’s what’s going to buy feed for this winter. The 8.6 is not going to buy feed for this winter. The 54 is.”

(Kinzel) Earlier this month, Senator Patrick Leahy tried to attach the emergency money to legislation that provided additional funds for victims of Hurricane Katrina, but President Bush threatened to veto the bill unless the farm disaster relief money was taken out.

Now Leahy has convinced members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to put the provision in next year’s Agriculture budget bill.

On Thursday, Bush Administration officials testified that they still oppose the plan, leading Leahy to question the future of the relief aid:

(Leahy) “If they continue to oppose it I cannot believe that the Republican controlled House of Representatives would allow it to stay in. I mean they’re going to take their marching orders from the White House.”

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas is more optimistic. He thinks the Bush Administration is warming up to the relief plan. He says statements of opposition are different than veto threats:

(Douglas) “The President needs to consider a lot of issues beyond the relatively modest amount we need for Vermont. The deficit is coming down and that’s good, but he’s continuing to be fiscally responsible and has to consider all the different angles. But we need relief for our dairy farmers and I certainly hope that before all is said and done our Congressional delegation can make it happen.”

(Kinzel) This issue is not going to be settled anytime soon. It’s unlikely that Congress will consider the bill before its August recess and that means it’ll be well into September before the plan is voted on.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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