When I became Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee in January of this year, I had one primary goal: to ensure that America’s farmers and ranchers have the policies in place that they need to feed, fuel, and clothe the nation while ensuring stability and consistency for farmers, ranchers, consumers, markets, and rural communities. After all, agriculture is the foundation of our livelihood and the lifeblood of rural America. And, while our work will never be done, we are off to a great start.
Senate Clears $4.2 Billion Farm Relief Package
WASHINGTON, D.C. — As thousands of farmers and ranchers face economic ruin due to adverse weather conditions and low crop prices, the Senate passed farm disaster relief legislation included in the Agricultural Appropriations Act (H.R. 4101) by a vote of 55-43 sending the vital legislation to the President for his signature.
"There is only one person that stands between American farmers and ranchers and over $4 billion in disaster relief — that's the President," Smith said. "Farmers and ranchers are in desperate need right now. They are struggling to make ends meet, to survive this difficult year, and to figure out a way to put a crop in the ground for next year. Congress has acted and now is not the time to play politics with farmers and ranchers. The President needs to sign this bill."
The House of Representatives passed the package on Friday October 2, by a margin of 333-53. The disaster relief package passed today includes $2.35 billion in total funding to address crop disaster losses, divided into three parts:
$1.5 billion to assist producers who have been hit by crop losses in 1998.
An additional $675 million to provide assistance to producers who have suffered multiple-year crop losses, especially those farmers in the Upper Midwest battling wheat scab and multi-year flooding.
$175 million for livestock feed assistance in a cost-share program available to livestock producers who lost their 1998 feed supplies to disaster.
The relief package also contains $1.65 billion in aid to farmers eligible for Freedom to Farm contracts to assist them in dealing with the loss of markets and the Administration's inability to keep foreign markets open for our farmers. This assistance will come in the form of one-time payments similar to the Agricultural Marketing Transition (AMTA) payments under the Farm Bill. While the damage done by the Administration's neglect of agricultural trade cannot be fully offset, this assistance will help farmers make it through this temporary market downturn.
"This package passed the House by a margin of six to one. The Senate also passed it with bipartisan support. Those of us who go home each week and talk to the people we work for know that using farmers for political gain will destroy them," Smith said. "We need to act now, because it's nearly too late. This bill helps farmers get back on their feet immediately, and I hope the President will do the right thing and sign it, despite his earlier threats."
This legislation follows on the heels of the Emergency Farm Financial Relief Act which was signed into law on August 13. That legislation allows 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 are normally made twice a year, in December or January and again in September. The bill makes $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.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District — which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon — in the U.S. House of Representatives.