Congress has begun its work on the annual appropriations bills, including the Agriculture Appropriations bill. The bill will set funding levels for the USDA's enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, laws that are supposed to provide basic protections for millions of animals at commercial breeding facilities, laboratories, zoos, circuses, airlines, and slaughterhouses. USDA has recently begun overseeing a large number of facilities — mostly puppy mills — that had previously evaded the licensing/registration requirements, and the agency needs to hire more inspectors to handle the additional workload.
This bill also will determine whether a vital new program continues to get funding in 2007. Recognizing a severe shortage of veterinarians — especially in rural and inner-city areas — Congress enacted a law in 2003 to encourage veterinary school graduates to provide animal care where it's most needed. That law allows the USDA to help graduates pay off their student loans if they agree to work in underserved areas or to be available during emergency situations such as disease outbreaks or disasters. Congress approved $500,000 in initial funding for this program last year — now we need to keep that going and modestly expand it. Having adequate veterinary care is a core animal welfare concern.
Senators Rick Santorum (R-PA) and Carl Levin (D-MI) and Representatives Christopher Smith (R-NJ) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) are once again leading the effort to obtain the needed funds. As these champions have done for the past several years, they are circulating a letter for other legislators to co-sign. The letter seeks modest increases for USDA's implementation of these key animal welfare laws. Last year's letter was signed by 41 Senators and 141 Representatives and it yielded positive results in the budget process.
Please help us get a strong showing on this year's letter. Call your U.S. Senators, John McCain and Jon Kyl, and ask them to sign on to the Santorum/Levin group letter on animal welfare funding. Ask your Representative, Jeff Flake, to sign on to the C. Smith/Blumenauer group letter. You can reach your legislators through the Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Click here to take quick action .
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