Hello, I'm Mark Pearson.
We're dedicating the program this week to the impact of Hurricane Katrina on rural America.
For residents of the rural South who were ravaged by the storm, that impact may be too high to calculate. And the numbers that are available give only a glimpse at the level of suffering: a quarter of a million people have been evacuated and housed in 17 states and the District of Columbia ... 32 tons of basic first aid supplies have been delivered ... and Congress thus far has approved some $62 billion in funding for relief efforts.
USDA's contributions include emergency funding for conservation and clean-up efforts ... and changes in the marketing loan program so producers can get help for on-farm grain storage.
But the hurricane not only has the government scrambling to pay for relief and recovery, it's put routine spending considerations on hold ... including those for American farm programs.
Katrina's winds pushed inside the beltway this week and disrupted upcoming Budget Committee negotiations in the House and Senate. Originally scheduled for September 16, both bodies have agreed to delay work on reducing the $300 billion deficit because of the catastrophic damage caused by the hurricane.
For their part, members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees have been tasked with reducing USDA's budget by $3 billion over the next five years. The Republican leadership would like to see almost one-third that amount come out of the 2006 fiscal year budget allocation.
House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte has set the first priority as preserving human life. Goodlatte wants any decisions about budget cuts to be made after food needs are determined and damage to crops assessed.
Calling it the most serious disaster the U.S. has ever had, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Saxby Chambliss feels there is no way the Committee could carry out the agenda created in July. The Georgia Republican also is waiting for needs to be properly assessed for hurricane victims. Chambliss is planning to consult with the White House and legislative leaders once work on the budget resumes.
Last week, $10 billion in emergency funds was authorized by the House and Senate to help hurricane Katrina victims. This week, an additional $50 billion was tacked on to the total. Because the allocation is considered an emergency, the $60 billion is not part of the delicate balance of tax cuts and allocations.
Both legislative bodies are tentatively planning to push the deadline for budget submissions back to the end of September.