WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With American farmers and ranchers struggling with adverse weather conditions and low crop prices, the House of Representatives today passed the Emergency Farm Financial Relief Act (S. 2344) by voice vote, the Senate version of a bill introduced by Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Smith (R-OR).
"This bill is a sound step that we can take today that will reassure producers and their bankers that farmers' entire assets can be available to address the current situation. The Agriculture Committee will work in September to formulate any additional action that the House might need to take. In addition, we will be calling upon the Secretary to use the full range of authorities already in his discretion to provide relief to suffering farmers," Smith said in his floor statement.
The Senate passed S. 2344 on Thursday, July 30, 1998. The bill will now be sent to the President who has signaled his support.
This legislation would allow farmers the option of receiving all of the Agriculture Market Transition Act (AMTA) contract payments for FY 1999 immediately after the beginning of the fiscal year. Annual payments can now be made twice a year, in December or January and again in September. The bill would make $5.5 billion available as much as one year early to help farmers cope with the cash shortage they are now experiencing due to low prices. The bill leaves the option of early payments with the farmer who can then make the decision on the basis of personal circumstances.
Because all the 1999 AMTA payments occur within the same fiscal year, there is no CBO-scored cost to this proposal. It allows Congress to address the current farm cash shortage immediately without incurring any additional budget cost while giving farmers the flexibility to adjust to their individual circumstances.
The Emergency Farm Financial Relief Act follows on the heels of the "square deal," a four-point plan providing a future for American agriculture, outlined by a bipartisan group of farm state legislators in June. The square deal includes implementation of Fast Track negotiating authority, lifting of agricultural sanctions against Pakistan and India, funding for the International Monetary Fund, and approval of normal trade status for China. On Tuesday, July 14th the agricultural embargo against Pakistan and India was lifted allowing for the sale of 300,000 tons of U.S. wheat to Pakistan. On July 23rd, Congress voted to continue normal trade relations with China, signaling the halfway point of the square deal.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District — which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon — in the U.S. House of Representatives.