By Veto-Proof Margins, Congress Sends To President A Farm Bill That Will Renew And Expand The MILC Safety Net For Dairy Farmers

WASHINGTON (Thursday, May 15) - The Vermont Congressional Delegation - Sen. Patrick Leahy (D), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I), and Rep. Peter Welch (D) - Thursday hailed today's final congressional approval of a new 5-year Farm Bill that will extend and strengthen the safety net that dairy farmers rely on when milk prices plummet.

The new charter for the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program includes a major breakthrough for dairy farmers. For the first time, dairy farmers' rising production costs will help trigger MILC program payments, reflecting expenses that are being pushed higher by soaring fuel, feed and transportation prices. Leahy, Sanders and Welch were able to add the new "feed cost adjuster" to the MILC formula. The victory came in the face of long odds -- no other commodity program in the Farm Bill gets a similar benefit to help with rising production costs. The Vermonters also worked to strengthen the MILC program in two other ways, by increasing both the payment and eligibility rates.

The U.S. Senate Thursday afternoon passed the Farm Bill by a bipartisan, veto-proof margin of 81 to 15. The U.S. House of Representatives approved it Wednesday in a bipartisan, veto-proof vote of 318 to 106. The President has threatened to veto the bill. If he does, votes to override the veto could come as early as next week.

The MILC Program charter renewal was engineered on the Senate Agriculture Committee by Leahy, the panel's most senior member, and Sanders and Welch worked to build bipartisan support for the plan.

Leahy said, "Vermont's priorities are woven throughout this farm bill, and no priority was more important than the safety net for dairy farms. This strong, bipartisan vote is a tremendous and hard-won victory for Vermont dairies. The new feed cost adjuster in the MILC program strengthens the safety net for Vermont farmers and will help defray their rising production costs. The President has said he will veto this bill. I hope he does not, but if he does, we clearly have enough support to override and to put this new MILC charter into law."

Sanders said, "This farm bill helps Vermont dairy farmers and provides a major step forward in addressing the growing crisis of hunger in America. It provides a strong safety net to protect family-based agriculture. It also provides increased funding for emergency food banks, and it takes significant steps forward in terms of moving us toward more sustainable energy."

Welch said, "This is a Farm Bill that reflects key Vermont priorities. From supporting our dairy farmers to promoting the use of local food and energy sources, this bill provides Vermont's rural economy opportunities to prosper. Senator Leahy, Senator Sanders, and I made it our top priority to secure the critical safety net the MILC program provides for our farmers, and our teamwork has paid off in a major win for Vermont."