WASHINGTON, D.C.- Late Wednesday evening, the House passed a $10.9 billion FY04 supplemental bill for Florida that included an amendment, co-sponsored by Chairman Bob Goodlatte, stipulating $3 billion in national agriculture disaster assistance. H.R. 5226, introduced by Congressman Randy Neugebauer (R-Texas), provides disaster assistance to producers affected by weather related disasters across the country. The bill's funding stipulates that producers could receive disaster assistance, in coordination with crop insurance and salvaged crops, up to 95 percent of the crop's value.
This national disaster assistance package is funded by placing a cap on the Conservation Security Program (CSP), leaving $6 billion to be utilized in the program. CSP is a voluntary program that provides financial and technical assistance to producers for conservation efforts and is still in its startup phase. CSP's FY04 $41 million budget was spent on producer contracts with the 2,188 producers enrolled in the program. Although the program provides financial assistance to promote conservation, the number of participants remains relatively low. Enrollment in the program continues on a rolling basis and producers wanting to participate in the program will not be denied access.
In the 2002 Farm Bill, the projected costs of CSP were expected to be $2 billion. Currently, $9 billion is allocated to the program. The $6 billion cap provision in this bill still provides the program with three times as much funding as originally projected. The offset in no way threatens the existence of CSP.
"Obviously we would prefer to provide this assistance without offsets, but the reality of the situation is that there will be no disaster money before we go home unless we provide budget offsets. Weighed against the urgent need of producers, our judgment was that this was the way to go," said the Chairman.
As the date of adjournment quickly approaches, the possibilities for funding disaster assistance that would reach producers immediately dwindled. Chairman Goodlatte refused to entertain offsets that tapped into farm commodity programs. This compromise will allow CSP to continue to function and increase participation while getting producers the money needed to stay in operation in the wake of natural disasters.
The Chairman believes producers need disaster assistance quickly and it is imperative for Congress to help American producers.
Farmers and ranchers across the country have suffered severe damages from early freezes, floods, droughts, hurricanes and other natural disasters. The livelihood of American agriculture depends on the production of crops and agricultural products. We depend on the fruits of their labor and we cannot turn our backs on producers who are in need of our assistance,? Chairman Goodlatte said.