Reporting Susan Koeppen
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — You’ve been hearing plenty about the Fiscal Cliff over the last few weeks, but what about the Dairy Cliff?
While the threat of the fiscal disaster looms in Washington D.C., there’s another issue that’s not getting much attention. And within days, it could have you paying outrageous prices for milk.
Maybe you’re like a lot of people. You go to the grocery store for a gallon of milk. It’s always there, very affordable, something you need for your family, but not something you’d concern yourself over.
But if Congress doesn’t act by the end of the year, U.S. Farm Policy will revert back to the 1940s.
That means milk prices could skyrocket to as high as $8 a gallon, and that’s not welcome news to customers at the Youngwood Corner Market in Westmoreland County.
“I was absolutely shocked,” said Gloria Long, a customer. “My family goes through about a gallon a day, and with the price of everything else going up, I’ll have to be looking for a third job just to afford milk in the house.”
To explain this one, you have to go all the way back to President Truman in 1949. That was the last time the U.S. passed a permanent farm bill.
Under that bill, the government was bound to offer what’s called “parity pricing.”
Basically, it keeps the price of milk high enough to keep the dairy industry afloat. Add that to today’s inflation rate, and all of a sudden, milk costs a small fortune.
“I think this has really been a quiet matter right now on the table, especially with the federal government dealing more with the Fiscal Cliff,” says Ed Christofano, the owner of Youngwood Corner Market.
Christofano says right now he charges the state minimum to help his customers, but he might not be able to do that for long.
“With state minimum pricing on milk, we have to follow the state minimums. Retailers can always opt to charge more,” he says. “However, when you’re in the business of retail, you want to service your clients, your customers, so we stick to the minimums on our pricing here.”
Congress has negotiated on a new five-year farm bill, but as with most issues on Capitol Hill these days, they’re deadlocked – not over the price of milk, but about other provisions in the same bill.
Those provisions include things like food stamps, the nation’s anti-hunger program and crop subsidies for farmers – leaving consumers with no choice but to pay higher prices.
“Myself, I’m working,” said Long. “What about the poor senior citizens and people like that who don’t work? How could they possibly afford it?”