WASHINGTON, D.C. -- With the Asian financial crisis and adverse weather conditions exacting a heavy toll on American farmers and ranchers, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-GA), Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Smith (R-OR), and Republican Farm State members today announced the introduction of Smith's Emergency Farm Financial Relief Act while calling on the President to use his authority to lend assistance to the hard-hit agricultural community.
Smith's 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.
"Many American farmers are facing financial ruin. While we prepare for the future by opening global markets to our producers, we can't ignore the present difficulties in the agricultural community. This legislation will immediately provide $5.5 billion in assistance for our farmers while preserving the flexibility Congress granted them in the Freedom to Farm Act," Smith said.
President Clinton promised farmers that his administration would use the Export Enhancement Program (EEP) to its maximum to secure foreign markets for U.S. agricultural products. The 1996 Farm Bill made over $1.5 billion available for EEP in 1996-99. To date the Administration has used virtually nothing.
Despite repeated calls from farm groups and farm state legislators to use EEP to prevent the loss of markets in wheat, wheat flour, vegetable oils, and other commodities, the President has yet to respond.
"While the rest of the economy is booming, farm prices have hit bottom and agricultural exports are dwindling. While he claims credit for the rest of the economy's success, the President refuses to make good on his promise and use his authority to help our farmers. Congress has made nearly $50 million a month available for EEP through 1999. Our farmers are running out of time and the Administration needs to act," Smith said.
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 Chairman Smith and a bipartisan group of legislators in June. Smith's 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.
Smith represents Oregon's Second Congressional District — which includes most of eastern, central, and southern Oregon — in the U.S. House of Representatives.