Nevertheless, the uncertainty of drought means this is a very difficult time for many. At President Obamas direction, USDA is doing all it can within the Departments existing authority to help.
Last week, I announced a final rule to simplify the process for Secretarial disaster designations both to speed the process for producers and to reduce the burden on State government officials, who are also hard at work to help producers around the country cope with this disaster.
I reduced the interest rate for Farm Service Agency Emergency Loans, effectively lowering the current rate from 3.75 percent to 2.25 percent to help ensure that credit is available for farm families who are hit by drought.
And finally, I announced that USDA has lowered payment reductions for Conservation Reserve Program lands that qualify for emergency haying and grazing in 2012, from 25 to 10 percent.
USDA officials are traveling to states around the country to see firsthand the impact of the drought, and we will continue to look for ways to help. But the fact is USDAs legal authority to provide assistance remains limited right now. Thats because the 2008 Farm Bill disaster programs, which were implemented under President Obama, expired last year. Prior to the expiration, these programs helped hundreds of thousands of U.S. producers during disasters.
If Congress doesnt act, USDA will remain limited in our means to help drought-stricken producers. Thats why President Obama and I continue to call on Congress to take steps to ensure that USDA has the tools it needs to help farm families during the drought. Disaster assistance for producers is also one of many reasons why we need swift action by Congress to pass a Food, Farm and Jobs Bill this year.
I know that many producers are struggling today with the impact of this historic drought. The President and I are committed to doing all we can to help farmers and ranchers in this difficult time.
As all of us across America hope for rainfall, and while USDA does all it can to assist Americas farmers, ranchers and rural communities, I hope that Congress will do all it can to help us get the job done.