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Victory: Farmers and Ranchers Voices Heard
American farmers and ranchers received welcome news on Thursday night: the Department of Labor finally listened to them and withdrew its proposed youth farm labor rule, which would have fundamentally altered the future of agriculture in our country. If the Department would have moved forward with regulating the relationship between parents and children on their own farm, a dangerous precedent would have been set; virtually nothing would be off limits when it comes to government intrusion into our lives.
Out of respect for the rural way of life, the Administration has agreed to not pursue this regulation further. Instead it will work with rural stakeholders -- such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, FFA, and 4-H -- to promote safety among youth workers in agriculture. This is exactly what we have been asking for all along -- those who know agriculture best should have been consulted from the start. On Friday after the announcement I appeared on Fox News to discuss the news.
I also appeared on Fox News Channel on Thursday prior to the proposed rule being withdrawn to discuss the fact that the proposal was ill conceived, did not conduct enough outreach, and is so broadly written that it lacked common sense.
To celebrate the announcement, I held a press conference at the statehouse in Topeka on Friday along with Steve Baccus, President of Kansas Farm Bureau, Matt Teagarden, Director of Industry Relations for Kansas Livestock Association, and family ranchers Barb Downey and Randall Debler.
Statehouse Press Conference on Withdrawal of DOL Youth Farm Labor Rule
For generations, the contributions of young people have helped family farm and ranch operations survive and prosper. If this proposal had gone into effect, not only would the shrinking rural workforce have been further reduced, and our nation's youth deprived of valuable career training opportunities, but a way of life would have begun to disappear. This is a tremendous victory for farmers and ranchers across the country.
Senate Passes Postal Bill
On Wednesday, the Senate passed the 21st Century Postal Service Act, legislation to help preserve the soundness of the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). The postal reform bill will provide USPS with flexibility to restructure and save billions of dollars -- while preventing taxpayer dollars from being used for a bailout.
Additionally, the bill includes language that expands upon an amendment that I proposed to make certain rural communities are not forgotten as the Postal Service restructures. Action is now required by the U.S. House of Representatives before the bill can be signed by the President and the provisions take effect.
The language, which is based upon an amendment I successfully had adopted in committee, will provide an answer to the question so many Kansans have been asking: "what do we have to do to save our post office?" Once passed by the House and signed into law the language will help protect rural post offices by defining a structure for what the Postal Service must consider as it conducts the individual post office feasibility studies -- and stops the closure of any post offices until that happens.
The Postal Service has been suffering billion dollar deficits over the past 5 years, due in part to a sluggish economy and the increase use of email. USPS announced its plans to close or consolidate nearly rural 3,600 post offices, including more than 130 in Kansas. But in 2010, the Postal Regulatory Commission found that only 0.7 percent of the USPS operating budget goes to maintaining the 10,000 smallest post offices in the country. Therefore, reducing service to rural communities will have little benefit to the USPS' bottom line while bringing much hardship to rural communities. The 21st Century Postal Service Act will require USPS to set minimum standards of service and alternatives to closure that must be considered prior to closing any post office.
USDA Announcement on BSE Case
This week's announcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that a dairy cow in California was identified with Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) reaffirms the fact that our food safety system works. The USDA has very strict guidelines in place to protect our food supply and the system performed exactly how it was designed to perform. The animal was never presented for slaughter and at no time presented a risk to the food supply or human health.
This detection in no way affects the United States' BSE status as determined by the World Organization for Animal Health, and this detection should not affect U.S. trade. The United States is the world leader in food safety. American beef and dairy are safe and will remain safe.
Plan to Lower High Gas Prices
This week I spoke to my colleagues on the U.S. Senate floor today about my concerns regarding rising oil and gas prices and the negative impact on consumers. Kansas has the third highest number of highway miles of any state in the country, so higher fuel prices are particularly difficult for Kansans who drive long distances each day for work and school. As oil and gas prices once again rise and the U.S. economy continues to struggle, I believe one of the most important things Congress can do is facilitate the production of affordable energy.
For the United States to remain competitive in the global market, Congress must develop a comprehensive national energy policy. No single form of energy can provide the answer. High fuel prices and an uncertain energy supply will continue until we take serious steps toward increasing the development of our natural resources. Not only would the development of our nation's resources reduce our dependence on foreign energy, it would also provide our economy with a reliable, affordable fuel supply. If future generations of Americans are to experience the quality of life we enjoy today, the time to address our energy needs is now.
Speaking about New Businesses and Startup Act
I spoke at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars Tuesday about the Startup Act, legislation I authored with Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) to jump-start the economy through the creation of new businesses. The Wilson Center is "a living memorial" to President Wilson that seeks to build a bridge between academia and public policy. Senator Warner and I highlighted the job-creating provisions of the Startup and spoke about the global battler for talent the United States must win if we are to remain the best place in the world to do business. New businesses create an average of 3 million jobs each year. By creating a circumstance in which many will succeed, jobs will be created and our economy will be stronger.
Disaster Assistance Available for Kansans Affected by Severe Weather
Low-interest federal disaster loans are now available to residents and business owners affected by the 90+ tornadoes, hail and severe weather that hit Kansas the evening of April 14 and early morning hours of April 15, 2012. In response to a request from Governor Sam Brownback and my letter to Administrator Mills supporting his request, the U.S. Small Business administration (SBA) has made assistance available to residents in Sedgwick, Butler, Cowley, Harvey, Kingman, Reno and Sumner counties.
Disaster loan information and application forms are available from the SBA's Customer Service Center by calling (800) 659-2955, e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting SBA's Web site at http://www.sba.gov/services/disasterassistance. Individuals who are deaf or hard-of-hearing may call (800) 877-8339. In addition, SBA representatives are personally on hand at the following Disaster Loan Outreach Center to answer questions and provide help each individual complete their application:
4900 South Clifton
Wichita, KS 62716
Hours of Operation: Monday through Friday, 9 am to 6 pm
And more than two weeks after the tornado, Kansans continue to reach out to their friends and neighbors in need. One organization that continues to make a difference is the United Way of the Plains, which signed up more than 1,750 volunteers to clear debris following the tornado that ripped through southeast Wichita and the Oaklawn neighborhood.
Speaking at the Independent Community Bankers Association Annual Convention
On Thursday, I spoke with community bankers gathered for the Independent Community Bankers Association Annual Convention. Community bankers play a big role in the way of life we enjoy in Kansas. But regulations and red tape aimed at preventing the bad players on Wall Street from irresponsible behavior have begun to affect the smaller banks in Kansas communities that had nothing to do with the financial collapse we have experienced. I introduced S. 1600, the Communities First Act, to begin implementing some commonsense reforms into the way small banks are regulated. If we are to continue to enjoy our Kansas way of life, we must have a strong community banking industry. My thanks to David Lynch of ICBA and the many Kansas bankers that made my visit possible.
Seeking Answers in the Collapse of MF Global
This week, I participated in a Senate Banking Committee hearing on the collapse of MF Global. Hundreds of millions of dollars are missing from MF Global customer accounts. Rather than protecting these accounts which, by law, are off limits for use outside of their intended purpose, government regulators allowed these segregated funds to disappear. The Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has oversight over financial transactions involving commodities markets. In the days leading up to the bankruptcy filing by MF Global, the CFTC failed to protect customer accounts from this illicit raiding. As the situation continues to develop, I will remain engaged to ensure that farmers and ranchers who use similar financial services as a means to protect themselves against losses will not be further victimized.