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Lawmakers Beat the Drum for Permanent Disaster Aid

posted on September 21, 2007

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the federal government pumped billions of dollars worth of disaster assistance into Gulf Coast states. And farm state lawmakers from as far away as North Dakota and Wisconsin proposed emergency legislation to help farmers hurt by Katrina, and other natural disasters.

In the two years since Katrina, producers have endured a litany of weather woes that includes droughts, floods, blizzards and wildfires to name just a few.

While some blame the calamities on global warming, others believe natural disasters have always been a more ominous aspect of Mother Nature.

But the events seemingly are becoming so common that lawmakers now are calling for permanent natural disaster assistance to be included in the next Farm Bill.


Lawmakers Beat the Drum for Permanent Disaster Aid

Tom Buis, President National Farmers Union: "The ladies and gentlemen behind us are addressing the most serious flaw in the safety net for American agriculture…"

Farm state lawmakers and representatives of the National Farmers Union, beat the drum for permanent disaster assistance this week on Capitol Hill. The push for a permanent program for farmers comes after claims that $20 billion in disaster assistance has been paid over the past 21 years.

Tom Buis, President National Farmers Union: "It's almost like if you're in a weather disaster area you're hoping everyone else has one so you get some assistance."

Sen. Jon Tester, one of a handful of active farmers in the U.S. Senate, defended the proposal and spoke from experience as a wheat farmer in rural Montana.

Sen. Jon Tester, D - Montana: "Sometimes we don't put a crop in the bin. If the insects come in, or heat or drought or hail…there are so many things that totally destroy you as a family farmer. As these folks behind me know, one bad year can put you out of business."

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus is heavily promoting the plan as part of the 2007 farm bill. The Montana Democrat and some of his Senate colleagues emphasize the current Congressional formula of ad hoc, or emergency appropriations, is far too slow. But the Bush Administration does not support the disaster program.

Former USDA Secretary Mike Johanns told farmers this week that a permanent program would balloon the farm bill budget. North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad disagrees with that assertion, arguing the plan could actually cut overall farm spending in future years.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota: "It's focused on a farming operation's shallow losses that are not covered by crop insurance and it is fiscally responsible. It costs less than ad hoc measures."

While many key framers of the 2007 farm bill attended the Capitol press conference, Sen. Tom Harkin was notably absent. Harkin, who is guiding the new farm bill through the Agriculture Committee, has given the proposal a "lukewarm" reception.

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana: "We need permanent agricultural disaster assistance."

Reporter Question: "Would you approve a farm bill without permanent assistance?"

Sen. Max Baucus, D-Montana: "We need permanent agricultural disaster assistance."



Tags: Congress disaster relief government news policy unions