Disaster Assistance Legislation Introduced
Disaster assistance legislation has been introduced by Sens. Baucus (D-MT), Burns (R-MT), Daschle (D-SD) and Johnson (D-SD). The bill would provide disaster assistance to farmers for 2001 and 2002 crop losses (yield and quality) resulting from severe weather, pests and diseases.
The legislation waives a provision in the Federal Crop Insurance Act prohibiting emergency disaster assistance and directs the Secretary to use the CCC to make "emergency financial assistance….available to producers on farms that have incurred qualifying crop losses for the 2001 or 2002 crop due to damaging weather or related condition, as determined by the Secretary."
The legislation establishes the same loss threshold as used in previous legislation which covered 2000 crop losses. The bill also makes funds available for livestock losses for 2001 and 2002 in any county that has received an emergency designation by the President or the Secretary of Agriculture. If enacted as introduced, the measure would make funds available if the President "submits to Congress an official budget request for a specific dollar amount that includes designation of the entire amount of the request as an emergency requirement…"
In summary, the legislation as proposed would cover 2001 and 2002 crop losses, both yield and quality, attributable to severe weather, insects and disease. The coverage would be identical to that provided for 2000 crop losses and funding would be designated as "emergency" so it would not require spending reductions to offset the cost.
The Senate Agriculture Committee is scheduled to mark-up the legislation on Aug. 1. During consideration, some members are expected to express serious concern about the open-ended cost of the bill (some estimates already run as high as $5 billion in losses as of mid-July) and some members may express interest in adding provisions to cover economic losses as well as weather-related losses.
Even if the committee approves the legislation, there will be no further action until Congress returns from the traditional August recess, which begins Aug. 2. When Congress returns in September, the debate will likely center on the cost of the legislation and whether spending cuts should be required to cover the cost. However, at that time the costs associated with the new farm bill are expected to be projected to be considerably lower than earlier estimates.
The NCC has joined with the American Farm Bureau, American Soybean Assn., National Farmers Union and others in expressing support for disaster assistance. The NCC continues to clearly state that modifications in the new farm bill should not be made to pay for disaster assistance.