WASHINGTON – This week, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL) joined colleagues in sending two letters opposing the slow rollout of the Biden Administration’s Emergency Relief Program (ERP 2022), which implemented payment limits that unfairly harm producers who have undergone significant losses. Yesterday, Coach joined Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) and colleagues in sending a bicameral letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressing their concerns about USDA’s methodology and implementation of ERP. Additionally, Coach joined Senator John Hoeven (R-ND) in sending a letter to Comptroller General Dodaro requesting a Government Accountability Office (GAO) review of USDA’s ERP 2022 program.
USDA’s ERP 2022 requirements are misguided and lose sight of the program’s intent outlined by Congress when it was created and over $3.7 billion allocated. The program’s purpose is to assist producers impacted by qualifying natural disasters in 2022 in a similar manner to the first round of ERP and the previous Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+). However, USDA has established requirements that have proved inadequate in helping farmers recover from natural disasters. In fact, by the USDA attaching excessive conditions to receive aid, this federal relief program could force farmers to wait even longer for assistance or completely jeopardize their ability to access the program.
“American producers have experienced significant losses, and the Administration has taken an approach that does not reflect Congressional intent. The current program does not provide needed assistance to full-time farm families that suffered the deepest losses, and in short, it misallocates limited but badly needed assistance,” the senators said in their letter.
“While this program is already unnecessarily delayed, it is still imperative that USDA depart from its current path because of the major problems raised by producers and Congress. USDA needs to follow the law and Congressional intent to address the crop losses of our farm families without the pay limits and without preferences that are not authorized by the statute,” the senators continued.
“We strongly request the USDA abandon this current program and implement the framework of 2021 ERP Phase 1 as quickly as possible,” the senators concluded.
Senators Tuberville and Marshall were joined in the letter to USDA by Senators Deb Fischer, Pete Ricketts, Cindy Hyde-Smith, James Lankford, John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, and many Members of the House of Representatives. Read the full letter to USDA here and below.
Senators Tuberville and Hoeven were joined in the letter to GAO by Senators John Boozman, Roger Marshall, Pete Ricketts, James Lankford, Cindy Hyde-Smith, Steve Daines, Kevin Cramer, and John Thune. The letter requesting a GAO report may be found here.
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We write to share our strong concerns regarding the methodology and implementation of the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Emergency Relief Program (ERP) 2022.1 As farm and ranch families across the country continue navigating challenges caused by various natural disasters, it is vital that proper assistance be delivered in an effective and timely manner.
It is unacceptable that USDA’s announcement comes almost one year after Congress appropriated over $3 billion in funding to address natural disasters that occurred during the 2022 crop year through the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2023 (P.L. 117-328). This is especially true considering USDA had the framework of 2021 ERP Phase 1 available and Congress encouraged USDA to use such framework.
American producers have experienced significant losses, and the Administration has taken an approach that does not reflect Congressional intent. The current program does not provide needed assistance to full-time farm families that suffered the deepest losses, and in short, it misallocates limited but badly needed assistance.
Additionally, the methodology used for the 2022 ERP will negatively impact many farmers’ ability to receive financing from lenders and plan for the next crop year. Based on your regulation, farmers suffering losses who would have received assistance covering more than 75% of their calculated losses in 2020 or 2021 will now be capped at closer to 10%. For a mid-sized farm of 1,000 acres with calculated losses of $200 per acre ($200,000 in total losses), the vast difference between upward of $150,000 assistance in 2020 vs. $18,750 in 2022 could be the difference between survival and bankruptcy.
Earlier this year, Members of Congress sent a bicameral letter to USDA pertaining to the ERP Phase II, requesting that USDA reconsider the fundamental changes under such an approach and utilize ERP Phase 1 framework for the 2022 crop year.2 Unfortunately, these concerns were not addressed, as evidenced by the two-track payment calculation system utilized in the current program.
Furthermore, ERP for 2022 introduces a new payment limit, albeit under a novel name, the progressive payment factor. These factors have resulted in a system of winners and losers that punish the farm families hit hardest by disasters. Additionally, the 2020 and 2021 ERP payments were adjusted for premiums and administrative fees paid by all eligible producers whereas for 2022 payments this only benefits a limited number of producers. This change is also contrary to the statute.
While this program is already unnecessarily delayed it is still imperative that USDA depart from its current path because of the major problems raised by producers and Congress. USDA needs to follow the law and Congressional intent to address the crop losses of our farm families without the pay limits and without preferences that are not authorized by the statute. We strongly request the USDA abandon this current program and implement the framework of 2021 ERP Phase 1 as quickly as possible.
USDA’s Emergency Relief Program (ERP 2022) is intended to aid agricultural producers impacted by wildfires, qualifying droughts, hurricanes, winter storms, and other eligible disasters experienced during calendar year 2022. On December 29, 2022, President Biden signed into law the Disaster Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2023, which includes over $3.74 billion in assistance to eligible producers according to a USDA Fact Sheet. USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) divided the program’s rollout into two separate phases or tracks. According to a USDA FSA fact sheet, Track 1 will leverage existing Federal Crop Insurance or Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) data as the basis for calculating initial payments. Whereas FSA intends Track 2 to fill additional assistance gaps and cover eligible producers who did not participate in existing risk management programs through a revenue based approach.
While USDA’s two-tiered approach may sound positive, it is not. The agriculture industry in Alabama and across the country is frustrated with the announcement of sign-ups for this round of ERP funding. The equations for funding calculations penalize large producers with higher income levels and farming operations, even though they purchase crop insurance and have suffered significant losses due to natural disasters. Large producers will receive payments of approximately 10-25% of their losses due to “progressive factoring discounts” which do not apply to socially disadvantaged or underserved producers.
More information on USDA’s ERP 2022 may be found in American Farm Bureau Federation’s Market Intel report from November 9, 2023.
AG COMMITTEE ACTIVITY:
As Alabama’s voice on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, Coach Tuberville is committed to supporting Alabama’s farmers and producers.
In November, Coach Tuberville’s office encouraged crop and livestock producers in Alabama to consider the USDA emergency loan and disaster assistance programs to help them recover financially from the prolonged drought affecting the state.
Coach has led the charge in calling out the Biden Administration for a proposed rule that would allow unions to coerce and pressure temporary foreign agriculture workers into unionization. Coach submitted a comment letter in November expressing strong opposition to the Biden Administration’s proposed H-2A regulation. In the letter, he outlined how the proposed rule would hurt farmers and producers who rely on seasonal workers through the H-2A program for farm labor. Coach also joined Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS) in sending another letter requesting an extension of the comment period for the proposed rule, but the request for the extension was denied by DOL.
Coach introduced the Black Vulture Relief Act to allow farmers and ranchers to protect their newborn livestock from black vultures without burdensome government interference.
In September 2023, Senator Tuberville introduced the Farmers’ Market Expansion Act to add tree nuts, including pecans, to USDA’s Seniors’ Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. This would provide a new market for pecan producers and allow seniors increased access to nutritious, locally-sourced pecan products.
In July 2023, Senator Tuberville introduced two pieces of legislation—the Farm Board Act and the Mid-South Oilseed Double Cropping Study Act of 2023—to improve opportunities and representation for Alabama’s agriculture community.
The Farm Board Act, which Senator Tuberville introduced with Senator Raphael Warnock (D-GA), and Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) would make changes to the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation’s (FCIC) ten-member Board of Directors. The FCIC is a government-owned corporation that finances the federal crop insurance program’s (FCIP’s) operations. There are currently four seats for agricultural producers on the board, of which one must be a producer of specialty crops. This bill designates two of the remaining three open seats for farmers on the FCIC Board as (1) a producer of livestock and crops, and (2) an underserved producer, respectively.
The Mid-South Oilseed Double Cropping Study Act of 2023, led by Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), Senator Katie Britt (R-AL), Senator Bill Hagerty (R-TN), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), would request a study from the USDA Risk Management Agency (RMA) on the gap in crop insurance coverage for certain winter oilseed crops, specifically canola and rapeseed, and double cropping policies. For farmers to take advantage of opportunities in renewable diesel and Sustainable Aviation Fuel, they need the assurance that crop insurance—such as Catastrophic Risk Protection, Yield Protection, Revenue Protection, or Revenue Protection with Harvest Price Exclusion—will be eligible in their counties for these crops and practices. To address crop insurance gaps that may exist, RMA and FCIC need analysis of winter oilseed crop and double-cropping production practices and opportunities.
These bills build on Senator Tuberville’s legislation to address issues facing our agriculture community such as the Foreign Adversary Risk Management (FARM) Act, which would establish safeguards against foreign purchases of American farmland. Alabama is one of the most susceptible states to foreign agriculture influence, with our state having the third-highest amount of foreign-owned land in the country.
Senator Tuberville is also concerned with rising input costs continuing to cut into farmers’ bottom lines and making it difficult to do what they do best: farm. That’s why he helped introduce legislation to eliminate the federal Estate Tax, often called the Death Tax, to prevent any more family farms from going out of business due to this burdensome regulation. Instead of inhibiting production, the federal government needs to focus on creating an economic environment that preserves small businesses and family farms and incentivizes the next generation to enter the industry to continue feeding and fueling our nation.
Senator Tuberville also helped introduce the Feral Swine Eradication Act to extend and make permanent the pilot program established in the 2018 Farm Bill. The legislation would continue to safeguard public health, agriculture, and local ecosystems against the threat of feral swine. Feral swine impede farmers’ livelihoods and our national food supply, causing more than $1.5 billion in damages annually. Over the last five years, feral swine have impacted more than 173,000 acres in Alabama.
This year, Senator Tuberville was named the top Republican of the AG Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, which enables him to build on his work to expand broadband access for rural communities.
Senator Tuberville’s first hearing as Ranking Member of Rural Development and Energy—titled “Rural Broadband: Connecting our Communities to the Digital Economy”—focused on ways to expand broadband access in rural communities and incorporate these programs in the 2023 Farm Bill. Senator Tuberville invited Rainsville native and CEO of Farmers Telecommunications Cooperative Inc. (FTC), Frank Johnson, to testify before the subcommittee about successful broadband expansion technologies he’s seen through his work to increase service speeds for rural areas.
In addition to the Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, Senator Tuberville serves on the Subcommittee on Commodities, Risk Management, and Trade, and Subcommittee on Food and Nutrition, Specialty Crops, Organics, and Research.
Senator Tommy Tuberville represents Alabama in the United States Senate and is a member of the Senate Armed Services, Agriculture, Veterans’ Affairs, and HELP Committees.