Boxer Places Hold on $350 Million Emergency Dairy Assistance

October 1, 2009 07:00 PM
Source: Western United Dairymen news release

California Sen. Barbara Boxer has placed a hold on the Fiscal Year 2010 Ag Appropriations bill following its adoption by the House-Senate conference committee on Wednesday. Boxer expressed concern about the allocation of $350 million in emergency dairy assistance contained in an amendment by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont.)
The measure was initially supported by both Senators Feinstein and Boxer because it was aimed at the Dairy Price Support Program which would have ensured that the funds helped all producers equally. The measure adopted by the conference committee specified $290 million for direct payments and $60 million for purchase of cheese. A request for a hold on an appropriations bill is extremely rare and lasts until the Member of Congress releases it.
The new USDA fiscal year began Oct. 1. However, a 30-day continuing resolution was passed, giving the USDA some breathing room. Sen. Boxer has requested a meeting with USDA Secretary Vilsack to discuss how the emergency spending will be allocated, expressing concern that the emergency spending should not be used in a way that discriminates against dairies in Western states.  

The $60 million cheese purchase allocation fell well short of the 100-million-pound request made by Western United Dairymen. WUD first presented the cheese purchase proposal in mid-July when WUD President Ray Souza testified before Congress, asking for a significant USDA purchase of surplus cheese that would then be donated through food banks and other charities to help feed the hungry and help bolster dairy producer prices. Increasing levels of cheese inventories during the summer, that continue today, stood to  dampen chances of recovery for California dairy farmers whose pool prices depend heavily on the price of milk used for cheese.

Virtually every producer group in the country supported a significant cheese purchase with the $350 million. The National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) has conducted an analysis showing that the $350 million amendment by Sen. Sanders would be most effective if used to purchase consumer cheese products. According to the NMPF analysis, appropriating that money to USDA for purchasing products commercially would enhance dairy farmer income by $1.3 billion over a period of several months.  The language was not included in the House version of the appropriations bill, setting the stage for the conference committee.
"Commitments were made to Senators Boxer and Feinstein that the final language would not discriminate against California and Western state dairy producers,” noted Western United Dairyman CEO Michael Marsh. "We are very concerned that the language in this bill could lead to imposition of an arbitrary cap on producer payments based on total payments received or on production.”
WUD President Ray Souza thanked Boxer for her action. "We are appreciative of her strong action on behalf of California's dairy families,” said Souza. "She, Senator Feinstein and Congressman Dennis Cardoza have worked tirelessly in support of this proposal to purchase 100 million pounds of cheese. Historically high inventories of cheese remain as a significant barrier to the swift recovery of milk prices. We believe such a large purchase will have a beneficial impact on producer income, while simultaneously bringing a tremendous boost to the depleted pantries at food banks across America.  Farmers should not be going broke while hungry Americans go without basic food staples such as dairy products.” The cheese purchase is supported by the California Association of Food Banks.

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