Speaking at a press briefing, the secretary also urged Congress to move as quickly as possible on issues that must be addressed before its scheduled adjournment on Oct. 4 so that members can return to their re-election campaigns.
“There are many important issues that Congress must address before it adjourns in early October,” said Veneman. “Our hope is that the Congress will work in a bipartisan manner to accomplish these priorities in the coming weeks to benefit America’s food and agricultural sector.”
She listed seven key areas of importance to the Bush administration:
Farm Bill implementation:
The Secretary said that farm bill implementation will continue to be a top priority for USDA in the coming months.
“We are making tremendous progress on farm bill implementation to ensure producers are able to receive program benefits in a timely and efficient manner,” she said in a reference to criticism that some payments will be delayed into 2003.
She announced new requirements for documentation for updating crop bases and yields for the farm bill’s direct and counter-cyclical payment provisions. She also outlined the program provisions for the new loan rates for pulse crops. Specific information, including questions and answers on these announcements is available at www.usda.gov.
The secretary said USDA and the Bush administration continue to carefully monitor the drought situation. “We are doing everything we can to assist producers including expediting emergency disaster declarations, providing emergency loans and crop insurance,” she noted.
Veneman said that 11 entire states have received disaster designations and in total 1,470 counties have received disaster designations this year. To date, some 22 states have been designated eligible for emergency haying and grazing assistance. About 80 percent of cropland is covered by crop insurance, which is up significantly from just a few years ago.
“Livestock producers, particularly have suffered this year and don’t have the same risk management tools available such as crop insurance,” she said. She also repeated the administration’s support for additional assistance, noting that several legislative proposals have been introduced in the Congress.
“The administration supports additional assistance which should be provided in a responsible way through budget offsets that don’t break the budget and help those producers most in need. We look forward to working in a bipartisan manner as the Congress examines this issue.”
President’s Economic Agenda:
During August, President Bush conducted an economic forum in Waco, Texas. Secretary Veneman and Ambassador Robert Zoelleck participated in a roundtable on trade that included farm and food sector representatives.
She noted the president has called for making the tax relief package he pushed for last year permanent, including ending the estate tax, which is important to America’s farm sector.
“The death tax is a burden to America’s farmers and ranchers and the Congress should act to permanently eliminate it,” Veneman said.
The Secretary also said USDA continues to spark economic development in rural communities and today announced $3.1 million in rural economic development grants for 24 states. These resources will assist more than 450 businesses and create or save nearly 3,000 jobs.
Homeland security legislation:
Secretary Veneman urged the Senate to finish work on the creation of a new Homeland Security Department as proposed by the administration. Veneman said the president’s proposal is important to protect America.
“The president needs to have the capability to organize and manage a federal workforce to best protect our nation and our citizens from potential threats,” she said. “The legislation supported by the administration would also better protect our food and agriculture sector by consolidating our border inspection systems.”
Healthy Forests Initiative:
The Secretary urged the Congress to act on the President’s Healthy Forests Initiative that was announced in August while the President toured fire and forest management projects in Oregon.
“This initiative will be important to protect our precious lands and prevent the type of devastating forest fires that we have experienced this year,” said Veneman. “This has been one of the worst fire seasons in history. And, we need to do more to protect national forests and the communities within and around them.”
Veneman said the Congress also should pass an Energy Bill supported by the president.
“Agriculture relies so heavily on energy,” she said. “Congress needs to act and the energy bill supported by the Administration would do more to invest in renewable fuels such as biodiesel and ethanol.”
Veneman said the President supports the renewable fuel standard contained in the Senate version of the Energy Bill that would lead to a near doubling of corn used for ethanol production. She also highlighted a USDA study released in August, which showed the effectiveness and efficiency of ethanol.
The Secretary also said 13 appropriations bills are before the Congress related to the USDA budget for FY2003 and urged quick resolution on these measures so the department is prepared to move forward on Oct. 1.