Senator John Thune (R-S.D.) wrote two separate letters today calling for action from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to assist South Dakota ranchers who suffered historic livestock losses caused by the early winter snowstorms that hit the Black Hills and western South Dakota over the weekend. Thune is also providing guidance for ranchers on his website following Secretary Vilsack's decision to make the United States Department of Agriculture website unavailable during the partial government shutdown. Thune continues to work with his colleagues in the Senate to end the partial government shutdown and move toward a bipartisan agreement on a new Farm Bill.
Thune's letter to Speaker Boehner called on the Speaker to appoint Farm Bill conferees so that Farm Bill Conference Committee negotiations can begin as soon as possible. The letter emphasized that the livestock losses resulting from the devastating winter storm that recently swept through western South Dakota will create a severe financial crisis for many ranchers. Both the House and Senate-passed Farm Bills include livestock disaster programs that provide important economic assistance to these producers--programs that are desperately needed in South Dakota and the surrounding areas where natural disasters have resulted in historic livestock losses. The sooner the House and Senate are able to reach an agreement and the Farm Bill passed into law, the sooner relief can be provided to South Dakota ranchers.
Thune's letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called on the Secretary to reopen Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices in the impacted counties in western South Dakota. The partial government shutdown resulted in the Obama Administration closing FSA state and county offices nationwide. Thune called for Vilsack to open FSA offices in storm-impacted counties to allow FSA employees to assist with compiling damage assessment reports needed to support a Secretarial disaster declaration. Vilsack has the authority to exempt FSA employees from the partial government shutdown in order to help provide critical government services in western South Dakota.
"We need to be doing everything we can to help the livestock producers whose livelihoods have been endangered by this storm," said Thune. "Opening our FSA offices in western South Dakota is a step to begin providing services and relief to ranchers who have experienced devastating livestock losses. I'm also continuing to work with Speaker Boehner and hope that he will quickly name House Farm Bill conferees so that we can finalize a new Farm Bill--one that includes livestock disaster programs--as soon as possible. Last weekend's devastating storm is another example of why we need to complete work on the Farm Bill for our farmers and ranchers."
Read full letter to Speaker Boehner in PDF format below:
Read full letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in PDF format below: