From the office of Sen. Max Baucus
WASHINGTON, D.C. The Montana congressional delegation today blasted a new proposal by the Agriculture department to close six Farm Service Agency offices in Montana. Earlier this year, the USDA announced that it is considering closing seven FSA offices in Montana, citing that it will be more efficient to consolidate office locations. However, Senators Max Baucus and Jon Tester and Congressman Denny Rehberg adamantly opposed the proposal, saying FSA offices provide important services for producers such as emergency assistance payments and signups for all farm programs. Following a meeting in March with Baucus, Tester, Rehberg and USDA Under Secretary Mark Keenum, State Executive Director Randy Johnson and Deputy Administrator of Field Operations Steve Connelly, the USDA decided to slow plans to close FSA offices. However, the USDA amended their proposal and now proposes closing six FSA offices in Montana and sending a traveling representative to each of them one or two days a week. In a letter today to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Michael Johanns, Montana’s congressional delegation said the amended proposal still falls short of what agriculture producers need and deserve. “Unfortunately, this amended proposal suffers the same inadequacies as the original reorganization plan,” the Montana congressional delegation wrote today to Secretary. Johanns. “The amendment to the FSA reorganization plan calls for closing six offices, but provides offices hours in those offices one or two days a week,” Baucus, Tester and Rehberg wrote. “We believe this plan is set up to fail. When producers visit FSA offices they need to sign up for programs, report yields, acres planted, etc. Often these tasks involve numerous forms and records that are filed in the FSA office. To assume a traveling employee can serve a producer adequately by showing up one day a week with a lap-top computer is preposterous.” “We believe that each county should have the opportunity for open, public meetings to comment on any proposed closure before the plan is submitted to the USDA headquarters, not afterward,” the delegation wrote. “We call upon you to conduct public meetings in the affected areas with full participation of affected agricultural producers, county commissioners, and our designated field representatives.” “We were optimistic that when USDA decided to “take a step back” and reevaluate the proposal, a new proposal would emerge,” Baucus, Tester, and Rehberg wrote. “Unfortunately, this proposal is the exact same plan we originally opposed with one modified timeline. We simply cannot support a plan that is destined to fail.” The Montana congressional delegation remains committed to keeping all Montana FSA office open to ensure that farmers and ranchers around the Big Sky state continue to have access to the services they need and deserve.