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House overwhelming passes $19b disaster bill

Photo Credit: Julius Schaaf/USGC Grain bin flooding Iowa 2019 Julius Schaaf.jpg
Julius Schaaf and Duane Aistrope assisted a neighbor with unloading these grain bins, pausing when nearby levees broke.
Farmers to receive $3 billion in assistance for lost crops and administered through WHIP, which was used in 2017.

The House finally advanced the $19 billion disaster relief package, which previously passed in the Senate on May 23 and offers funds to aid those affected by 2017 hurricanes as well as recent natural disasters that include floods, tornados, wildfires, snowstorms and typhoons. The President is expected to sign the bill in the coming days, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture can begin the implementation and signup process.

Over its 10-day Memorial Day recess, the House attempted to unanimously approve the measure three different times. However, Republican members opposed it and sought a full roll-call vote. The final tally was 354 in favor and 58 opposed. The Senate had passed the bill by a sweeping 85-8 vote ahead of the holiday.

Specifically, the bill provides $3 billion for farm-related losses and on-farm stored commodities through the Wildfire & Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP). In 2017, WHIP edibility wasn’t limited to primary counties with presidential emergency disaster declarations or secretarial disaster designations. It made assistance available for producers who suffered from excessive rain and flooding as determined by Farm Service Agency (FSA) county committees.

Senate staffers indicated that the bill does not specify whether or not you have to be in a disaster county in order to qualify for assistance, so that will be determined by USDA as the agency implements the program.

The bill also includes some important enhancements to WHIP and will include assistance for prevented planted acres. Regarding prevent plant in the disaster bill, the language gives fairly broad discretion to the secretary to provide assistance, but USDA won’t be able to develop the details until the House passes the bill, a spokesman for Sen. Chuck Grassley’s (R., Iowa) office noted.

Kami Capener, spokesman for Sen. John Hoeven (R., N.D.), said the bill does include language requiring the higher of the projected/based price and harvest price for payment calculations on prevented planted acres. “USDA will determine how that is applied to prevented planting. Sen. Hoeven is working with USDA to implement the legislation as effectively as possible,” Capener said in an email to Feedstuffs.

FSA will also help administer $558 million for the Emergency Conservation Program for repairs to damaged farmland and $435 million for the Natural Resources Conservation Service to administer Emergency Watershed Protection Program for rural watershed recovery.

An additional $150 million will be available for small rural communities impacted by natural disasters and another $600 million to provide grants to communities directly affected by the disasters. Block grants administered through the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development will provide $2.4 billion for disaster relief, long-term recovery, restoration of infrastructure and housing, economic revitalization and mitigation in the most affected and distressed areas resulting from a major disaster in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Further, $575 million were also set aside to help address emergency situations at the Army Corps of Engineers and rehabilitating and repairing damages to Corps projects caused by the disasters. The U.S. Department of Transportation, through the Emergency Relief Program, was allocated $1.65 billion for repair and reconstruction of federal-aid highways and roads that have suffered serious damages as a result of natural disasters.

National Cotton Council chairman Mike Tate, a north Alabama cotton producer, said this relief will be a big help to those farmers who are trying to restore their operations. That includes cotton producers in several southeastern states who had their ready-to-be harvested cotton hammered by hurricanes in 2018.

“Now, we urge USDA to get this assistance to the affected farmers as soon as possible,” Tate stated. “The livelihoods of farm families and the economic health of rural communities are at stake.”

Iowa secretary of agriculture Mike Naig said the disaster aid is a critical first step to recovery for Iowa farmers who suffered staggering losses during the spring flooding. 

Estimated agricultural flood damage in Fremont, Mills and Pottawattamie counties on the western Iowa border included 1.9 million bu. of corn lost, 482,000 bu. of soybeans lost and 2.4 million bu. of corn and soybeans lost in on-farm storage, which were valued at $10.9 million, as well as 418 grain bins damaged, valued at $11.6 million.

TAGS: Policy
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