WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives sent a bipartisan message to President Bush last night - we must provide disaster assistance to farmers and ranchers who are struggling to recover from weather related damage in recent years.
Following President Bush's veto of the first supplemental appropriations bill that funded war costs and agriculture disaster assistance, Congressional leadership decided to create two supplemental appropriations bills, one for war spending and one for agriculture disaster assistance and other programs for rural communities.
The House passed the agriculture emergency assistance supplemental appropriations bill (H.R. 2207) by a vote of 302 to 120. The bill includes language identical to the agriculture disaster provisions in the conference report for the first supplemental bill passed by the House and Senate.
President Bush threatened to veto the agriculture disaster assistance bill, saying in a Statement of Administration Policy released Thursday that "the proposed assistance is unnecessary and unwarranted."
"I hope the strong bipartisan vote in the House will convince President Bush to reconsider his veto threat. Many farmers and ranchers have been struggling for years to recover from disasters that have rocked their communities," Chairman Peterson said. "This spending to help farmers get back to business is certainly necessary and warranted."
The agriculture disaster assistance package includes assistance for farmers who lost 35% or more of their crop in 2005-2007 and for livestock producers in counties that experienced USDA designated natural disasters during that time. In order to assure that the package is fiscally responsible and meets the most pressing needs, producers can apply for a disaster payment for only one of those three years, and for the first time, only farmers who had insured their crop are eligible for payments.
The need for agriculture disaster assistance is clear and pressing. Natural disasters including floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, blizzards, freezes and other weather-related events caused serious damage to crops and livestock in 2005, 2006 and 2007. More than 80 percent of all U.S. counties have been declared primary or contiguous disaster areas by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) during the past three years.
A coalition of more than 30 farm and allied organizations strongly urged Congress to pass disaster assistance last year and voiced strong support for the agriculture disaster assistance supplemental bill.