October 20, 2020

Hirono, Schatz, Durbin, Klobuchar to Senate Leadership: Support Funding to Detect Invasive Species

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), along with her colleagues Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), wrote to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer asking them to provide additional funding to protect America’s agriculture and environment through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI) program.

The APHIS AQI program uses 4,800 highly-trained agricultural inspectors to intercept tens of millions of pests and invasive species each year at U.S. ports of entry. Damages caused by invasive species are estimated to cost more than $100 billion each year. As tourism and travel to Hawaii and elsewhere stalled during the pandemic, the user fees that are typically collected to carry out the program dropped precipitously. As these user fees support a large portion of AQI’s budget, additional funding from Congress is needed to allow the program to continue unimpeded through fiscal year 2021. Without support, the potential economic and environmental consequences of allowing this funding to lapse could exceed the $600 million needed to retain and support these highly-trained agricultural inspectors, especially as travel resumes in Hawaii and across the globe.

“We are writing to express serious concern about the drop in user fee collection that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI) program and request that you include supplemental funding to ensure the continuation of this program that is critical to safeguarding America’s agriculture and environment in any year end appropriations legislation or COVID-19 relief package,” the Senators wrote.

The lack of funding “also risks furloughing the 4,800 dedicated USDA APHIS and CBP employees that work day in and day out to protect our nation from invasive species. Should these employees, who receive specialized training to conduct these inspections, work elsewhere as a result of a furlough, the federal government will risk being unable to ramp up the program as travel resumes. This could result in a number of downstream impacts, including grounding flights and stopping the export of agricultural products from Hawaii and Puerto Rico to the mainland,” the Senators continued.

“USDA inspection programs are critical to agriculture in Hawaii, and we cannot afford to let services falter,” said Nicole Galase, Managing Director of Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council. “The cattle industry is currently facing a devastating invasive species, the Two-lined Spittlebug, which is damaging rangelands and will not only negatively affect food production, but will also be a detriment to the watershed by causing runoff and allowing invasive weeds to grow in the place of quality forage. Fully funding APHIS and AQI will help reduce the spread of this invasive species, and prevent additional invasive species from entering Hawaii.”

The letter can be found here and below:

Dear Leaders McConnell and Schumer:

We are writing to express serious concern about the drop in user fee collection that the COVID-19 pandemic is causing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Agricultural Quarantine Inspection (AQI) program and request that you include supplemental funding to ensure the continuation of this program that is critical to safeguarding America’s agriculture and environment in any year end appropriations legislation or COVID-19 relief package.

The AQI program is conducted in collaboration with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection (CBP). AQI’s budget is normally supported by the collection of user fees for inspection of luggage and cargo. The pandemic has severely curtailed travel, which has significantly decreased user fee collection. It is estimated that the program will soon run out of money and additional funding of over $600 million will be needed to carry the program through fiscal year (FY) 2021. 

This lack of funding jeopardizes the mission of the program, which is to detect and mitigate any foreign pests found in luggage or cargo at U.S. ports of entry before they establish in our environments and threaten our nation’s agriculture and environment. It is estimated that agricultural inspectors at U.S. ports of entry intercept tens of millions of pests each year that threaten our nation. In the U.S., damages caused by invasive species are estimated to cost more than $100 billion each year. 

It also risks furloughing the 4,800 dedicated USDA APHIS and CBP employees that work day in and day out to protect our nation from invasive species. Should these employees, who receive specialized training to conduct these inspections, work elsewhere as a result of a furlough, the federal government will risk being unable to ramp up the program as travel resumes. This could result in a number of downstream impacts, including grounding flights and stopping the export of agricultural products from Hawaii and Puerto Rico to the mainland.

The potential economic consequences of allowing the funding for the program to lapse far exceed the more than $600 million needed to keep this program on track until travel resumes to pre-pandemic levels. 

Thank you for your attention to this matter. 

Sincerely,

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