Senate leaders to urge support of milk subsidy programs

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(Host) Several key Senate leaders say they plan to strongly urge the Legislature to support a renewal of the state’s milk subsidy program.

They say the $4 million plan is needed immediately to save a lot of Vermont farms from going out of business in the next few months.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) When Vermont lawmakers passed an $8.5 million dollar milk subsidy program late last spring, the effort was seen as a temporary measure. The plan was viewed as a way to help many dairy farmers survive until a federal emergency disaster relief bill was passed by Congress.

That legislation was expected to appropriate $54 million to Vermont farmers to help them cope with the impact of wet conditions last spring.

But the federal bill was never adopted in Congress largely because of partisan infighting and the President also threatened to veto the legislation.

Last weekend, Senate Agriculture chairwoman Sara Kittell and the vice chairman of the committee, Bobby Starr, went to Washington to be briefed on the future of the disaster aid bill.

Kittell says the short term outlook isn’t good.

(Kittell) “There’s no vehicle and no intention of starting some disaster bill. They feel it’s something they will add to the first vehicle that will be passed in Congress and that will be the funding for the Iraq war. And the money can get out maybe if they can get this disaster attached in mid summer.”

(Kinzel) Starr says Vermont farmers simply can’t wait that long for federal financial assistance and he wants the state to renew its program that provides farmers with a subsidy when federal milk prices go down:

(Starr) “It’s very desperate. You know the price of milk came up a little a little bit I mean peanuts. And now it’s headed back down again. It really puts the burden on us as individual states to try to come up with solution to tide these folks over until the federal do something.”

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas says the state can’t afford to renew the program this winter. Starr disagrees and has his eye on part of a $13 million unallocated surplus that the state is carrying forward into the next budget year.

(Starr) “We hear stories every year how there’s no money, no money. We got to be careful. And every year it seems like we get home and in July we get reports that we had a big surplus. So it’s all in priority. I think if we think that agriculture is very important, we’ll come up with a few million to take care of that.”

(Kinzel) Starr and Kittell say they hope to bring subsidy legislation to the floor for a vote in the next few weeks.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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