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Public Statements

Letter To President Barack Obama

Feingold, Gillibrand Fight For Jobs Assistance For Farmers And Rural Americans

U.S. Senators Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are leading a Senate effort to ensure farmers and rural businesses have access to the same assistance provided to small businesses by the administration's jobs creation proposals. In a letter to President Barack Obama today, Feingold, Gillibrand and eleven other senators called on the administration to ensure farmers and rural businesses are a part of outreach and implementation of any jobs proposals since they are often also small businesses. Farmers and rural small businesses in rural locations often miss out on, or have difficulty accessing, assistance from the Small Business Administration (SBA), which often has offices located in urban areas. Making sure that agencies within the USDA such as the Farm Service Agency and Rural Development work with the SBA and other agencies is critical for making sure the proposals create and sustain jobs in rural America.

"As farmers and rural businesses struggle to obtain loans or credit to stay on their feet, the administration should make every effort to ensure family farmers and rural businesses are not left out of its efforts to create and sustain jobs," Feingold said. "Farmers and other rural businesses deserve the same access to assistance that businesses in big cities do."

"New York's farmers are a critical part of our economy and we must ensure their success," said Senator Gillibrand, the first New York Senator in 40 years to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee. "In this economic crisis, we can't afford to let our farm families be pushed any farther to the brink. If we're going to rebuild this economy, we need to keep families on their farms. I will continue working to ensure farmers and rural businesses have access to the assistance in the administration's jobs creation proposals so they are on track to succeed and grow for the long term."

The letter is supported by National Family Farm Coalition, National Farmers Union, National Milk Producers Federation, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Food and Water Watch, RAFI-USA, Wisconsin Farmers Union and Wisconsin Farm Bureau.

Feingold and Gillibrand have worked to shed light on the impact the economy is having on farmers and their ability to get credit and restructure loans. A report released in July requested by Feingold and Gillibrand confirmed the senators' concerns that the worsening farm credit situation has made it increasingly difficult for farm families to stay on their farms and in their homes. In March, Feingold and Gillibrand led a group of senators in calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Treasury Department to require TARP recipients to implement a foreclosure mitigation program that includes loan restructuring for farmers, as they have already done for home loans.

Joining Feingold and Gillibrand were Senators Herb Kohl (D-WI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Bob Casey (D-PA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Mark Udall (D-CO), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), and Al Franken (D-MN).

A copy of the Feingold-Gillibrand letter can be viewed here or below.


The President
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President,

First, we want to commend you on your continued efforts to rebuild our economy and ensure that more jobs are available for Americans. However, one area that we want to particularly highlight is the need to ensure that family farmers and rural Americans are included in these proposals.

As you may know, many agriculture-related rural businesses look to the Farm Service Agency (FSA) or Rural Development (RD) for assistance in obtaining credit or loans. FSA and RD offices are generally located in rural areas and have expertise in understanding these rural and agricultural business needs. In contrast, offices for the Small Business Administration (SBA) tend to be located in metropolitan areas and their programs are unfamiliar to many farmers and rural businesses, making it difficult for rural farmers to access them for assistance.

In July, the Congressional Oversight Panel for the Troubled Asset Relief Program issued a report, as required by the Feingold-Gillibrand amendment to The Helping Families Save their Homes Act. This report confirmed the serious strain that the overall economic and credit troubles were placing on farmers who face a worsening farm credit situation that is making it increasingly difficult for farm families to stay on their farms and in their homes.

While certain sectors of the agricultural economy were harder hit such as dairy and livestock producers, the continued impact of relatively high input prices and low prices for farm commodities has taken its toll across rural America. We have all heard from individual farmers battling this situation, forced to sell their farms or use nearly all of the equity built up over decades to secure routine loans. As with almost any community, the small businesses, often including many farms in rural areas, are the foundation for the whole economy and we cannot let a lack of credit or willingness to restructure loans cause them to fail. Besides the direct damage to the economy and these communities, any failures would have a ripple effect through the numerous other related rural businesses such as feed suppliers, implement dealers and processors.

Preventing farm and related business failures is critical for sustaining existing jobs in rural areas across the country. We encourage you to be mindful of the needs of farmers and other rural business owners when you are developing your proposals to support small businesses. Since SBA and Treasury are less familiar with the needs of these types of businesses, it seems wise to examine ways for USDA agencies such as FSA and RD to be part of the outreach and program implementation in rural communities. Furthermore, it is important to realize that farmers are often both businesses and homes and we continue to support additional efforts to provide the type of loan restructuring incentives for farmers that have been provided to other homeowners. Such an effort would similarly involve the combination of USDA and Treasury expertise and resources.

These joint efforts should be in addition to and not substitute for ensuring that the FSA and RD have sufficient resources to meet the demand for loans through their existing programs. We have seen demand for FSA direct loans in particular as the "lender of last resort" outstrip funding and require emergency infusions over the past year. Long periods when loans are approved, but unable to be processed because of lack of funding can result in farmers going out of business or being put in even more desperate straits and it may be appropriate to consider whether FSA could use additional direct loan resources as well.

We hope you will work to ensure that farmers and rural businesses are able to benefit from these proposals to the same extent as their urban counterparts.

Sincerely,

Senator Russ Feingold
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Senator Herb Kohl
Senator Bernie Sanders
Senator Tim Johnson
Senator Chuck Schumer
Senator Michael Bennet
Senator Robert Casey
Senator Jeff Merkley
Senator Mark Udall
Senator Jeanne Shaheen
Senator Al Franken

CC: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner
Small Business Administration Administrator Karen G. Mills


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