Lawmakers call for farmers to be protected

2020-04-19 | Niagara Gazette

April 19-- Apr. 19--A pair of local state representatives are among those calling for federal and state assistance to help farmers.

State Sen. Rob Ortt, R-North Tonawanda, along with several other state senators sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on April 12 asking that some of the $9.5 billion given to USDA be used to assist diary farmers.

"New York dairy farmers need urgent assistance. To be clear, they are not looking for a handout, and they are not in this grim position because of their own failure. Government action to respond to COVID-l9 -- while necessary -- has artificially eliminated the natural demand for dairy products, so it is the duty of government to rectify the situation and help dairy farmers remain financially viable in this difficult time," Ortt wrote.

Ortt pointed to USDA data showing farm closures in New York state being triple of the national average between 2012 to 2017. He encouraged a voucher program for people in need be created through the Milk Donation Program, which is authorized under the 2018 Farm Bill, to facilitate the donated milk through grocery stores and other venues.

"Doing so would help poor Americans keep food on the table, and also add demand for dairy farmers," Ortt wrote.

Assembly member Mike Norris, R-Lockport, also called for a comprehensive package for farmers on Wednesday.

"New York's farmers are already struggling to make ends meet, but now with restaurants, schools, large venues and other buyers of their products being closed the demand for food produced is lower than normal," said Norris. "Our dairy farms have been particularly hard hit. The state can and should take immediate action to provide relief to farmers across our state and help farms survive while helping to stabilize local and regional economies."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders are being asked to take the following steps at the state level to bring relief to farmers across the state:

--Suspend DMV registration requirements for agricultural vehicles and farm trucks for one year.

--Suspend the highway use tax, special hauling permit fees, and collection of New York state tolls for vehicles used to transport agricultural products, including milk.

--Suspend the 60-hour overtime threshold for farm laborers enacted as part of the 2019 Farm Labor bill for one year.

--Suspend the 24-hour agricultural rest requirement during the state of emergency period; Extend the Milk Producers Security Fund to help producers who are unable to sell because of COVID-19.

--Use additional federal stimulus money for direct-cash infusions for Cornell Cooperative Extensions to assist in the provision of emergency services.

--Use federal stimulus funding to invest in rural broadband infrastructure to assist in the provision of services to farms/rural areas during uncertain social and economic times; Provide vouchers for food banks to purchase local dairy and agricultural products.