Senator John Hoeven today called Michael Scuse, U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, to seek his help with Farm Service Agency (FSA) services for producers. Scuse oversees a range of USDA programs, including the FSA and agriculture disaster programs.
The senator has received reports from farmers and ranchers that they are unable to access FSA services in the aftermath of a severe winter storm that hit South Dakota and the southern tier of North Dakota last weekend. Producers also said they haven't been able to obtain check endorsements from FSA for loans and other payments.
Hoeven made the case that government shutdown rules authorize the agency to retain personnel for public health and the protection of property. Therefore, the senator asked Scuse to restore agriculture disaster services and initiate damage assessments for lost livestock.
Scuse made a commitment to work through agency programs as soon as possible when the government shutdown is resolved. Meanwhile, he said ranchers need to document their losses carefully so that they're prepared when services resume.
"Although I disagree with the USDA's position that they don't have the authority to act on producer needs, Under Secretary Scuse did commit to making our producers' needs a priority when the government reopens," Hoeven said.
Separately, Hoeven also announced that House leaders this afternoon approved going to conference committee with the Senate on a farm bill, and said it will name its conferees on Saturday. Hoeven, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has been named as a conferee for the Senate.
"The House action today is important, because the new farm bill contains the critical livestock indemnity program, which will help ranchers with losses like the one we had last weekend," Hoeven said. "Further, the farm bill the Senate passed this summer contains $24 billion in savings, and could be part of a larger plan to reopen the federal government and help get a handle on our deficit and debt."