Debate is getting hot on Capitol Hill with the push for disaster aid this election year. Thursday a bipartisan, bicameral delegation along with several agricultural organizations hosted a press conference highlighting the need for disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers across the country.
Texas Rep. Henry Bonilla, chairman of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, joined at least a dozen other members of the House and Senate Agriculture and Agricultural Appropriations Committees. Amplifying the call were leaders from the American Farm Bureau, National Farmers Union, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Grain Sorghum Producers and National Corn Growers Association representing millions of farmers and ranchers across the United States of America.
Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap says that a national emergency disaster assistance package is critical for America's farmers and ranchers.
"There are many producers who did not receive help in 2005 and they are experiencing another year of drought, flooding or fires," states Paap, a corn and soybean farmer. Almost 80% of U.S. counties in 2005 were declared national disaster areas, and about half of U.S. counties have been declared disasters so far in 2006.
"We need disaster assistance sooner rather than later," says Paap.
According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, natural weather-related disasters devastated U.S. agriculture in 2005 and 2006. The 2005 hurricane season was the worst in history. Other disasters such as droughts, floods and fires in 2005 and 2006 have caused epic destruction for American farmers and ranchers.
Agriculture Department drought data suggests that 2006 disaster assistance needs will be well above the long-term average of $2.5 billion per year - up to possibly $3 billion to $4 billion this year.
Bonilla emphasized that the assistance must go to those farmers and ranchers hit the hardest by the events of the last two years. He stressed that in counties directly affected by various disasters and areas still suffering must be first in line for assistance.
"This disaster assistance must be administered with care, making sure that those in the greatest need receive this assistance," he says. "I support disaster assistance and have joined other members from my state in publicly supporting this effort. We must address this situation and get our produces this necessary assistance to prevent this situation from getting increasingly worse."