Top ag leaders request emergency assistance for avian flu

Agriculture committee leaders express concerns over indemnity payments being held up at OMB.

The top four members of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees called for emergency assistance to be released to poultry and egg producers whose flocks suffered losses due to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N2 infections.

Agriculture Committee chairmen Sen. Pat Roberts (R., Kan.), and Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R., Texas), and ranking members Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), and Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.), sent a letter to the Office of Management and Budget asking for the secretary of agriculture be approved to utilize his emergency Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) transfer authority to help mitigate the spread of HPAI and limit the economic damages it causes to poultry farmers whose flocks become infected with the disease. Such funds are specifically intended by Congress for use in emergency situations such as this HPAI outbreak.

USDA recently released CCC funds for indemnity payments to farmers with infected flocks, for management of depopulated flocks and for necessary sanitation efforts at infected farms. These funds will be critical in curtailing the effects of HPAI.

“However, USDA is expected to request additional CCC funds be issued in the coming weeks to combat the virus as it continues to spread. We recognize that tax-payer dollars must be spent wisely and that CCC funds must be available for other potential emergencies, but in this situation early response to HPAI is critical in ensuring resources are preserved,” the letter stated. 

It continued, “Further, we remind you that the Animal Health Protection Act clearly states, ‘a determination by the Secretary of the amount paid… shall be final and not subject to judicial review or review by any officer or employee of the Federal Government other than by the Secretary of the designee of the Secretary.’ We urge you to ensure that your agency takes all necessary steps to guarantee that it not impede USDA’s immediate response to this emergency. Farmers are already facing severe economic hardship due to bird mortality, disruption in their production cycles, and loss of export markets for unscientific reasons. We need to ensure the indemnification process and cleanup of infected farms occurs immediately to avoid additional disruption in rural America.”

The leaders noted the spread of HPAI is “causing widespread economic devastation throughout rural communities, and we request OMB to assist USDA in alleviating this impact by providing prompt emergency assistance through the release of CCC funds as intended by Congress.”

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