Senate Ag Committee Chairman Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark, Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Thad Cochran, R-Miss., and Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., are introducing legislation that would provide timely disaster assistance to farmers affected by this fall's heavy rains, floods and other weather-related disasters. Representative Marion Berry, D-Ark., plans to introduce companion legislation in the House.
The measure would ensure that producers receive relief in a timely manner by providing an estimated $1.3 billion in direct payment assistance to producers in counties declared "primary" disaster areas by USDA. The Congressional Budget Office has scored the legislation at $2.19 billion. It will be paid for with funds available through the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Lincoln says, in these difficult economic times, this measure will help ensure farmers can continue to meet the nation's food and fiber needs while providing much-needed economic strength to rural communities. The language also includes $650 million to assist specialty crop producers, $150 million in assistance for livestock producers and $42 million to aid first handlers of cottonseed.
"Soybeans, rice, cotton, peanuts, sweet potatoes and other crops and segments of the agricultural economy currently are experiencing devastating weather-related losses," said American Soybean Association President Johnny Dodson, a soybean producer from Halls, Tenn. "In some cases, the 2009 losses follow on the heels of similar losses in 2008."
Several national commodity organizations representing producers, processors and related agri-businesses have offered their strong support for the Lincoln, Cochran and Wicker Disaster Assistance bill. The organizations say this bill can deliver urgently needed disaster assistance by utilizing a delivery mechanism similar to Direct Payments. The payments would be limited to growers in counties with Secretarial disaster declaration. The projected cost of the emergency assistance would be off-set so there is no increase in the budget deficit.
The groups say that although loss estimates are preliminary, they already have reached the hundreds of millions of dollars. They emphasized that many producers need assistance within weeks to repay loans and secure new financing in time for spring planting.