Response to significant budget cuts from Texas members of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee split along party lines. And FSA employees’ association members say the cuts could affect the agency’s efficiency.
Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, says it’s too early to say cuts in the FSA budget are too severe but that if the agency’s mission is compromised Congress will need to reassess the situation.
“I have no doubt that the reductions dealt to the FSA present complications, but I’ve told farmers, ranchers, small business owners, and the like throughout my district that tough times lie ahead with respect to funding across all sectors and levels of the federal government. Unfortunately, the FSA is no exception.
“I believe it’s premature to say that the reductions go too far,” he said. “As I understand it, while the way FSA conducts business may change, the business of FSA will not. It will continue to offer the same services that it always has. I have full faith that as we necessarily move towards a leaner government, and as the dedicated employees of FSA begin to further prioritize actions, they will continue to deliver program benefits and constantly reassess the various methods in which they conduct business.”
Conaway said he believes Congress must give FSA the flexibility to adapt to an “ever-changing environment. We have to trust that they are handling their budget situation as they know best. Members of Congress must resist the temptation to micromanage this transition. If we do not, we risk sacrificing FSA’s ability to grow and adjust to changing circumstances in the name of political expediency.”
If the FSA can no longer carry out mission critical deliveries, he said, then Congress will reassess the cuts contained in the Fiscal Year 2011 Continuing Resolution that its leaders negotiated with President Obama to avoid a shutdown of the federal government in March.
“But it is my position that it must be demonstrated that the job can’t be completed before we begin that process,” he noted. “We simply don’t have evidence that that is yet the case.”
On the opposite side of the aisle, Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, says agriculture has already made significant contributions to deficit reduction and to continue to target a program that accounts for less than one-half of 1 percent of a $3.5 trillion budget is short-sighted.
“We need to reduce the deficit,” he said, “but agriculture has already sacrificed enough. That’s why I voted against the agricultural appropriations bill. Cuts to the agricultural industry are too severe.”
Cuellar said Texas and other states have already lost significant parts of their Farm Service Agency budgeting. Texas FSA 2011 funding was reduced by $2.3 million compared to 2010 expenditures, due to the cuts imposed in the FY2011 Continuing Resolution.
Congressman Cuellar was driving through West Texas observing drought conditions when he called Southwest Farm Press and said the extreme heat and drought that grips the entire state, along with other natural disasters that have hit other states, could put a burden on FSA efficiency.
“FSA employees are working the best they can with what they have,” he said. “But they are expecting more cuts from the FY2012 appropriations. I’m doing what I can to work with Texas state FSA director Juan Garcia.”
Those cuts will be hard to absorb, says Darvin L. Collins, president of the Texas Association of FSA County Employees.
“I am extremely concerned with recent budget cuts placed on the Texas Farm Service Agency,” Collins said. “These cuts are not only affecting our employees statewide, they are hampering our ability to deliver mandated farm programs. These cuts could result in delays in producer payments and services at a time when many farmers are facing the most severe drought we've seen in decades.
“We can only stretch so far,” he said.
Craig Turner, President of the National Association of Farmer Elected Committees (NAFEC) says the organization “is concerned with the current budgetary constraints. Prohibiting county committees to meet to conduct normal farm program eligibility business is very serious. These meetings are vital to the approval process of many Farm Service Agency program benefits.”
Limiting county meetings will severely affect the efficient delivery of these important program benefits to the farm economy, he said.
“The House Agriculture Appropriations Bill approved last week will further hinder the delivery of congressionally-mandated programs. Additional cuts in administrative budgets will cause serious harm to the farm economy, especially in light of the current natural disasters occurring throughout the country including flooding in the Midwest, drought in the Southwest, Southern Plains and Texas, and wildfires.”
Turner said the budget reduction will place extreme pressure on FSA employees.
“They have already incurred an approximate 35 percent reduction in all employees since 2000. An additional 10 percent cut has been proposed in the 2012 budget, reducing staff in Texas to around 530 employees.”
He said complex programs including SURE and ACRE take a tremendous amount of time to administer.
“A rubber band can only be stretched so far before it breaks, and these cuts will limit the effectiveness of program administration. We all agree that the federal government needs to tighten its belt, but when the belt gets so tight it cuts off circulation there is more harm done than good.”
He said current budget constraints mean county offices are currently not authorizedto make any purchases without prior approval, including paper, toner, pens, pencils, postage, etc.
“You can’t expect an organization to operate as efficiently as possible with restrictions that are this tight. Newsletters are not authorized, which makes it hard for the staff to get timely information to producers who wish to participate in FSA programs.”
He said scheduling will be a problem. “It is already difficult in many cases for producers to get away to take care of FSA business. These cuts, if implemented as proposed, will change the face of FSA office structure in America. NAFEC is concerned we will see fewer offices through closure and combinations that will limit some producers’ ability to apply for programs.
“With recent discrimination complaints against USDA it should be a priority to ensure that all producers have equal access to programs. Reducing staff and offices will make it even more difficult for USDA to achieve the outreach goals set forth by the Secretary of Agriculture.”
Anyone wanting more information about the National Association of Farmer Elected Committees can go to http://fsacountycommittee.org.