Will House-approved disaster-relief bill become law?
Will disaster relief arrive in time for the nation’s agricultural producers?
In a last-ditch effort to assist America’s ranchers impacted by the drought that has gripped 54 percent of the nation’s pastures, U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas introduced on July 31 two separate House bills for disaster assistance. By Aug. 1, the first bill already was scrapped, with the second set for a vote Aug. 2.
The first, HR 6228, to provide a one-year extension of the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008, met opposition from a number of agriculture organizations, and was withdrawn Aug. 1. This bill would, according to www.govtrack.us, “... with certain modifications and exceptions ... make supplemental agricultural disaster assistance available for fiscal years 2012 and 2013, and for other purposes.”
The second bill, HR 6233, the Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act of 2012, allows for funding of programs such as the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish Program, the Livestock Forage Disaster Program, and the Tree Assistance Program, which all expired Sept. 30 or Oct. 1, 2011.
According to www.govtrack.us, the summary of this bill reads, “To make supplemental agricultural disaster assistance available for fiscal year 2012 with the costs of such assistance offset by changes to certain conservation programs, and for other purposes.”
In the proposed bill, assistance will be made available to qualified producers who suffer damages prior to Sept. 30, 2012. To offset the funding, modification clauses were included to decrease funding in the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for the year 2013.
In response to the proposed legislation, 12 groups -- including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, and the National Milk Producers Federation -- forwarded a statement to Congress Aug. 2, regarding the House disaster assistance legislation.
“Assistance for cattle and sheep producers is very important and something that we strongly support in the five-year farm bill, but it is also important that assistance be provided for other types of livestock and for producers of fruits and vegetables,” the coalition wrote.
The coalition contends that the disaster assistance bill:
•Does not help hog or poultry producers
•Only provides limited assistance via the grazing program for the dairy industry to those located in a designated disaster county
•Does not address high feed prices for dairy, hog, or poultry producers
•Does not assist fruit and vegetable producers without crop insurance available to them as a risk-management tool.
According to U.S. Rep. Henry Cuellar, who voted in favor of the bill, the disaster-aid package will provide $383 million in drought relief. Cuellar said in an Aug. 2 press release that the package would cut the federal deficit by $256 million. According to the Republican Majority in Congress website, “The net result of the bill would reduce federal spending over the next 10 years.”
Farm Bill support
The importance of the passage of the 2012 Farm Bill was emphasized by the coalition and other national associations. The bill now returns to the Senate to mixed reviews, since similar provisions were included in the 2012 Senate version of the Farm Bill.
“If the House simply passed the five-year farm bill reported out of Committee on a bipartisan basis, this bill would not be necessary,” the coalition wrote. “While we understand that will not happen before the August recess, this bill potentially costs more than $600 million and would only provide relief to livestock producers a month or two earlier than a farm bill debated and passed in September. Agriculture will already provide a minimum of $23 billion in deficit reduction by passing the farm bill. We do not need to provide additional deficit reduction in this package only a few months before we provide far more than agriculture’s ‘fair share.’”
While the coalition’s comments were written prior to the bill’s passage in the House, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association provided the following statement from President Jon Wooster.
“While the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association [USCA] appreciates the effort by the House of Representatives to address livestock disaster and drought relief programs, this action does not reduce the need for a new farm bill,” Wooster said. “In fact, the only way this disaster relief package could be viewed as a total success is if it leads to a five-year farm bill before the present policy expires in September. Continued delays only add to the burdens America’s farmers and ranchers already face. USCA urges Congress to set aside partisan politics and take swift action when members return after the August recess to pass legislation and get a new farm bill to conference and then to President Obama’s desk for his signature.”
According to www.govtrack.us, the House disaster bill has a 29 percent chance of being enacted. The House passed HR 6233 by a simple majority vote -- 52 percent in favor, 46 percent opposed, and 2 percent not voting.