Tester Secures Emergency Funding to Help Montana Producers Devastated by Wildfires

 U.S. Senator Jon Tester announced today that the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted his request for additional assistance for Montana producers ravaged by recent wildfires. 

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is releasing up to 3 million for a special two-week signup period for Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) funds that help Montana farmers and ranchers.

The Natural Resource Conservation Service will accept applications starting today, August 1, through August 15, 2017.  The additional EQIP funds can assist with livestock grazing deferment, damaged fence and post removal, livestock fencing, water facility development, critical area plantings, and cover crops.

“Family farms and ranches are the backbone of this country and in their time of need it is important for USDA and the federal government to step up,”Tester said.  “These emergency funds will help Montana producers get back on their feet after this devastating drought and fire season.”

Last week, Tester penned a letter to Secretary Perdue asking the Department to tap into disaster assistance initiatives, which Tester secured in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Montana farmers and ranchers interested in signing up for EQIP should contact their local Natural Resources Conservation Service office for additional information.

This week, Tester launched an online portal where Montanans who are impacted by fire and drought can contact his office and receive help.

Tester helped secure additional staffing at USDA offices to help Montana farmers and ranchers facing extreme drought. 

Tester has urged Small Business Administrator Linda McMahon to prioritize assisting Montana small businesses that apply for Disaster Loan Assistance because of business downturns due to devastating drought and wildfires. 

Tester called on the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Congress to help first responders across Montana who are fighting wildfires throughout the state.  Last week, Tester secured critical life-saving resources to help fight the Lodgepole Complex Fire in eastern Montana.

Amid Tainted Beef Scandal, Tester Renews Call for Brazilian Beef Ban

Senator Turns up the Heat on USDA to Protect Montana Producers, Consumers, and Barbeques

Following the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s removal of five Brazilian meat packing plants from its approved exporter list due to safety concerns, U.S. Senator Jon Tester is once again calling on Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to ban imports of Brazilian meat until safety concerns can be adequately addressed.

“Our ranchers raise the best beef and pork products in the world,” Tester wrote.  “They adhere to extremely high safety standards and make extraordinary efforts to provide consumers with desirable and safe products.  I believe it is unwise to risk the public’s trust in domestic meat products by potentially allowing harmful imports to make it into our marketplace.”

The Brazilian beef market was rocked by scandal in March as news reports confirmed that Brazilian meat packers were using a cancer-causing acid in their meat.  This led to several nations temporarily halting the importation of Brazilian meat.

As a result, Tester immediately introduced a bill to ban Brazilian beef for 120 days until safety concerns could be addressed.

Just last week, Tester questioned Secretary Perdue about the Department’s plan to inspect Brazilian beef.

In 2015, Tester successfully blocked the importation of Brazilian beef from regions where foot-and-mouth disease was prevalent.

Tester’s full letter to Secretary Perdue can be found HERE.

Tester Demands Transparency and Accountability During Health Care Debate

Senator Introduces Resolution as 13 Senators Draft Secret Health Care Bill Behind Closed Doors

Saying democracy “requires full transparency in the legislative process,” U.S. Senator Jon Tester is fighting to shine more light on the secret Senate health care bill.

Tester today introduced a Senate Resolution demanding a transparent, bipartisan debate from the 13 Senators who are drafting the secret health care bill behind closed doors.  Tester is specifically demanding a public hearing and an opportunity for Montanans to provide input on any legislation that will impact access and affordability to health care. 

“13 Senators are drafting a secret bill that could kick thousands of Montanans off health insurance, put Montana’s rural hospitals at risk, and force folks approaching retirement to pay more for health care,” Tester said.  “Montanans deserve accountability and transparency, and it is time to take this bill out from behind closed doors and give Montanans an open debate about the future of our health care system so we can bring down costs and increase access to health care.”

The lawmakers in control of the Senate have held no public hearings or debate on their secret, partisan health care bill, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has stated the bill will go directly to the Senate floor for a vote without receiving a single committee hearing, or input from those affected by the legislation.

Tester’s Senate Resolution reads as follows:

Whereas the people of the United States deserve and demand that legislation be created through a transparent, bipartisan process to ensure that they can hold their elected representatives accountable;

Whereas the proper functioning of representative democracy requires full transparency in the legislative process;

Whereas it has been widely reported that a group of Senators is working privately in a partisan fashion to craft national health care legislation in the Senate;

Whereas this group is secretly gathering in closed-door meetings that exclude the public and press;

Whereas Senate leadership has refused to commit to holding a single public hearing on this legislation before going directly to the Senate floor for a vote;

Whereas the draft health care legislation under consideration by a secretive group is one of the largest public policy reforms taken up by Congress in generations;

Whereas this legislation will affect the lives of all people in the United States;

Whereas health care constitutes 1/6 of the gross domestic product of the United States; and

Whereas Congress is elected by the people to serve the people: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That it is the sense of the Senate that the creation of any sweeping health care legislation must be done in a transparent, bipartisan manner in full view of the people of the United States and not behind closed doors.

Tester yesterday blasted the secret, partisan health care bill on the Senate Floor, and he has been sharing firsthand accounts from Montanans who could lose access to health insurance, pay higher costs for prescription drugs, and be forced to pay more because of pre-existing conditions because of this legislation.

Tester Introduces Bill to Address Chronic VA Workforce Shortages

Senator Introduces Bipartisan Legislation to Improve Delivery of Care for Veterans

 U.S. Senator Jon Tester introduced a bipartisan bill to address the crippling workforce shortages at the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and improve health care delivery for the nation’s veterans.

There are currently 45,000 staff vacancies at the VA. Approximately 38,000 of those positions are responsible for delivering front line care.  The VA also faces a high turnover rate of medical staff for higher-paying private sector positions and challenges recruiting qualified staff in rural areas.

Tester’s Better Workforce for Veterans Act will improve the VA’s ability to recruit qualified medical professionals while incentivizing employees to keep working at the VA.

“We must empower the VA to hire the very best doctors, nurses and front line medical staff so this nation can live up to the promises we made to those who served,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Workforce shortages have plagued the VA all across this nation and fixing it requires putting politics aside to do right by Montana’s veterans.”

The Better Workforce for Veterans Act will do the following:

  • Create a VA-wide database for vacant and hard-to-fill positions.
  • Expand successful partnerships that bring recent graduates, veterans and private-sector employees to the VA.
  • Cut red tape to allow the VA to hire Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists.
  • Provide funding and flexibility to hire dynamic regional and local VA leaders.
  • Survey why employees choose to leave the VA.

“The healthcare field is a highly competitive employment environment, and the Better Workforce for Veterans Act will ensure that the VA is able to go after and hire the best talent available,” said Matt Kuntz, Executive Director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Montana Chapter. “We are deeply thankful for Senator Tester’s continue efforts to expand and improve the workforce serving Montana’s veterans.”

More information about the Better Workforce for Veterans Act can be found online HERE.

Tester Introduces Major Bipartisan Reform Bill to Hold VA Accountable

Senator Jon Tester today introduced bipartisan legislation to allow for faster firing of bad employees and strengthen protections for whistleblowers at the VA.

Tester’s bill, cosponsored by Republican Senators Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), streamlines the VA’s process for reviewing and firing employees who engage in misconduct or perform poorly without sacrificing their due process rights.  

“This bipartisan bill will hold bad employees accountable while protecting the hardworking folks who are responsible for serving veterans,” said Tester, Ranking Member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee.“The challenges at the VA are many, but tough problems require commonsense solutions and this bipartisan bill is a product of what happens when you put aside politics and work together. This bill will make the VA stronger and ensure it can better deliver for Montana veterans.”

The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act has three major provisions. The bipartisan bill will:

Increase accountability within the VA by: 

  • Giving the VA Secretary the authority to expedite the removal, demotion or suspension of employees at the VA based on performance or misconduct. 
  • Shortening the process to remove employees at all levels of the department when evidence proves that they have engaged in misconduct or are performing poorly.
  • Incentivizing managers to address poor performance and misconduct among employees by including these issues in the annual performance plan. 
  • Prohibiting bonuses for employees who have been found guilty of wrongdoing. 
  • Prohibiting relocation expenses for employees who abuse the system.  

Protect whistleblowers by: 

  • Codifying the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection at the VA and mandating that the head of the office be selected by the President with the advice and consent of the Senate, giving Congress more oversight over the department. 
  • Requiring the VA to evaluate supervisors based on their handling of whistleblowers. 
  • Requiring the VA to provide department-wide training regarding whistleblower complaints once a year. 

 Strengthen VA leadership by: 

  • Giving the VA Secretary additional flexibility in hiring and firing senior executives. 
  • Removing bureaucratic barriers to holding senior executive accountable by expediting executive appeals and sending them directly to the VA Secretary. 
  • Reducing benefits for employees who are disciplined or removed for misconduct.  

Tester’s bipartisan bill is supported by multiple organizations, including the American Legion, Paralyzed Veterans of America, Veterans of Foreign Wars, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Military Order of the Purple Heart, the Project on Government Oversight, AMVETS, and Got Your 6.

“The American Legion applauds this bipartisan effort to provide Secretary Shulkin additional tools to increase accountability and address poor performance within the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Charles E. Schmidt, National Commander of the American Legion. “The media’s exposure of the 2014 Phoenix VA Medical Center wait-time scandal revealed that hundreds of veterans suffered and died while awaiting treatment.  Incompetent and uncaring employees throughout the VA system utterly failed to execute their fiduciary responsibilities and violated the Hippocratic Oath. Furthermore, they failed to uphold the American peoples’ promise to care for our veterans.”

“Paralyzed Veterans of America has long called for measures that bring greater accountability and protects those employees who have the courage to call out fraud, waste, and abuse in the Department of Veterans Affairs,” said Sherman Gillums, Executive Director of the Paralyzed Veterans of America. “We firmly believe that the culture of a company, organization, or federal agency is shaped by the worst behaviors its leader is willing to tolerate. VA Accountability & Whistleblower Protection Act is the first major step toward reshaping behavior in VA by tolerating bad behavior and poor performance no more. Our veterans deserve it; and so do the hardworking public servants of VA who are tired of being overshadowed by the performance of substandard managers and employees.”

“Accountability must be a two-way street,” said VFW National Commander Brian Duffy.

“The VFW salutes VA Committee Chairmen Sen. Johnny Isakson and Rep. Phil Roe, and their ranking members, Sen. Jon Tester and Tim Walz, as well as Sen. Marco Rubio for introducing a bipartisan, bicameral, and comprehensive accountability bill.  The VFW wants Secretary Shulkin to have the authority to manage his people in a manner expected of all senior executives, public or private. The VFW wants the secretary to weed out the nonperformers, and especially the criminals, regardless of whether the crime was committed on or off-duty. And the VFW wants this bill passed, because maintaining the status quo doesn’t work for those who have borne the battle.”

“Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America applauds the leadership and diligence of Senators Rubio, Isakson and Tester toward crafting this new bill to enable the removal of bad-acting employees at the VA,” said IAVA Legislative Director Tom Porter. “Nearly three years ago, the scandal in Phoenix alerted the country to the outrageous state of the VA health care system.  IAVA and our members have fought since that time to give the VA Secretary the tools needed to address workforce accountability and save veterans’ lives.  We encourage Senate and House leaders to quickly work together to pass the strongest VA accountability measure that can be signed into law.”

“MOPH believes it is absolutely critical that VA has the tools to enforce employee accountability and protect whistleblowers,” said Hershel Gober, National Commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. “We support this important legislation and thank Senators Rubio, Isakson and Tester for bringing it forward.”

“I am proud to support your VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act,” said Danielle Brian, Executive Director of the Project on Government Oversight. “This bill, if enacted, will significantly improve the landscape for whistleblowers within the VA. I thank you for your leadership and dedication to not only improving whistleblower protections at the VA but to making sure the agency has the tools and resources to implement those protections in a meaningful way.”

Carolyn Lerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative organization that is tasked with protecting whistleblowers, praised Tester’s efforts to bring more accountability and oversight to the VA.

“We support the Committee’s decision to establish the VA Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection,” said Lerner. “The Committee’s legislation takes additional, necessary steps to promote accountability, protect whistleblowers, and improve care at the VA. Additionally, we support the Committee’s decision to include whistleblower protection criteria in the performance plans of all VA supervisors and managers. This step will create additional incentives for supervisors to respond constructively to employee’s concerns, helping to improve the culture at the VA.”

 The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act can be found online HERE.  Asummary of the bill can be found HERE.  

Tester: Eliminate Unfair Canadian Trade Practices

Senator Introduces Resolution to Fix Canadian Wheat Grading, Give Farmers a Fair Price 

U.S. Senator Jon Tester is fighting to eliminate unfair Canadian trade practices that artificially downgrade the value of Montana wheat and hurt farmers’ bottom lines.

Under current Canadian law, wheat grown in the U.S. is automatically downgraded to the lowest quality designation of wheat, known as feed wheat, when it crosses the border. The U.S., however, provides a fair examination of wheat imported from Canada.  This trade discrepancy punishes Montana farmers who sell their products in Canada, but does not reciprocate that punishment for Canadian producers who export their products to the Unite States.

Tester is introducing a Senate Resolution that demands Canada change its wheat grading procedure to be equivalent and fair to Montana farmers.  Tester’s Senate Resolution also demands the Trump Administration examine whether Canada’s wheat grading laws adhere to existing trade agreements.

 “Montana farmers work hard and harvest the best wheat in the world, and it is wrong that they aren’t paid a fair price when selling it in Canada,” Tester said.  “This resolution will bring to the surface this unfair Canadian trade practice, so we can ensure Montana farmers aren’t disadvantaged when selling wheat in Canadian markets.  Every farmer knows that Hard Amber Wheat Duram is not feed wheat, and Montana should get the fair price they deserve.”    

Tester has raised specific concerns regarding unfair Canadian trade practices with the Canadian Minister of Agriculture, and he urged the former U.S. Trade Representative to take action on this issue last year.

Canada is Montana’s largest trade partner.  The U.S. and Canada traded $575 billion in goods in 2015, including the export of $280 billion in U.S. made products.

Tester’s Senate Resolution text is available HERE.

Tester Launches Senate Transparency Caucus to Shed More Light on Federal Government

U.S. Senator Jon Tester today is launching the Senate Transparency Caucus to shed more light on federal agencies and hold the federal government more accountable to taxpayers. 

Tester has invited all 99 U.S. Senators to join the Transparency Caucus, which will focus on identifying policies to increase public access to information, reduce bureaucratic hurdles to accessing public documents, and strengthen disclosure requirements for public officials.

“By bringing Democrats, Republicans, and Independents together on the Senate Transparency Caucus, we can give members of the public greater access to their government,” Tester said.  “This caucus will work to identify even more ways to shed light into the dark corners of our federal government, and hold each federal agency more accountable to taxpayers.”

To celebrate Sunshine Week, Tester has been introducing legislation to increase transparency across the federal government, and was recognized as one of the most transparent members of the U.S. Senate by the American Library Association.

Tester introduced the Public Online Information Act, which will make all public records from the Executive Branch permanently available on the Internet in a searchable database at no cost to constituents.

Tester also sent a letter to President Trump earlier this week encouraging him to work with Republicans and Democrats to increase transparency in our democratic process. 

Tester is also sponsoring multiple bills to increase transparency in political campaigns. He was the first Senator in history to post his daily public schedule online.

Tester’s letter to all 99 U.S. Senators inviting them to join the Senate Transparency Caucus is available HERE.