By Rick Miller

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand urged the Department of Agriculture last week to expedite payments to New York dairy farmers over a failed milk insurance plan for which they paid premiums but received no benefits.

The farm bill passed last month included refunds to New York dairy farmers for the failed insurance program, but the 35-day government shutdown prevented implementation.

In a recent media call, Gillibrand, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said she asked USDA officials to start implementing the farm bill at once. USDA employees began returning to work Jan. 28 following a weekend agreement to reopen the government.

“Dairy farmers in New York have been hurting for years, barely getting by,” Gillibrand said. The extremely low price of milk means many dairy farmers production costs exceed the price they get for their milk, she said. “Many have had to close down for good.”

Gillibrand said dairy farmers who paid into the milk insurance program “were ripped off by an insurance program that did nothing when they needed it.”

She said there was a sigh of relief from farmers when the refund of premiums was included in a farm bill amendment offered by Gillibrand. Then came the government shutdown. “They haven’t seen a penny of the money they are owed.”

She called on USDA officials to begin implementing provisions of the farm bill. Dairy farmers are “waiting and expecting a payment from USDA,” the senator added. “This money couldn’t come soon enough.”

They need to know how much their payment will be and when they will receive it, Gillibrand said. “They need it to make plans” and spring planting is coming.

Farmers need to start enrolling now in the new Dairy Margin Coverage Program, the senator said. “This new program will do a much better job of helping farmers when necessary.”

Gillibrand said, “There’s a lot of money in the farm bill for other programs,” expressing concern that USDA needs to gear up for that after the shutdown as well. She cited conservation programs that protect soil and water and rural broadband for example as programs that were not being implemented.

Gillibrand said the farm bill programs that have been held up for the past five weeks were the victim of a “political stunt” by President Trump. The president’s trade war “continues to create trouble for dairy and vegetable farmers,” she added.

Asked whether her time on the Democratic Presidential Primary trail would impact her representing her New York constituents in the Senate, Gillibrand replied: “I intend to serve people in the Senate well.”

In addition to being the first New York senator in more than 40 years to serve on the Agriculture Committee, Gillibrand is a member of the Armed Services Committee.