WASHINGTON – In an effort to prevent furloughs for meat inspectors, the U.S. Senate agreed March 20 to transfer $55 million within the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Senators approved the amendment in a voice vote as part of a government-wide funding bill. The U.S. House of Representatives was expected to vote on the bill March 21.
The measure would avert furloughs of all 8,400 inspectors for a total of 11 days from July through September, implemented as a result of automatic spending cuts that took effect on March 1. U.S.D.A. officials said furloughs would be staggered to ease the burden on the meat industry, but layoffs may cost billions of dollars in production for packers and processors, who would be forced to close plants without federal inspectors present.
“I’m very pleased the Senate unanimously passed this important amendment, which will help protect every family from paying higher food costs, and ensure hardworking Americans who make a living at these food inspection facilities don’t see their wages cut,” said Republican Senator Roy Blunt, Missouri, who co-sponsored the bill with Democratic Senators Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Chris Coons of Delaware. Senators Blunt and Pryor lead the subcommittee that oversees the U.S.D.A.’s budget.
The amendment would transfer agriculture funds allocated for school equipment grants and U.S.D.A. building maintenance to the U.S.D.A.’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which pays inspectors."The federal workers who inspect meat and poultry are critical not only to our nation's food security, but to the economic stability of many of our rural communities," Senator Coons said. "While we continue working to replace the reckless sequester with responsible deficit-reduction measures, it was important that Congress act to prevent a potential crisis from developing in our nation’s food supply. Backlogs in food inspections could result in the shutdown of processing facilities and send devastating ripple effects through rural communities and straight to the shelves of every market and grocery in the country."