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House Approves Disaster Bill

Erin Anthony

Director, Communications

photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center / CC BY 2.0

The House late last week passed a disaster assistance bill that, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation, will help farmers, ranchers and rural communities reeling from catastrophic weather events.

“Farms across the country endured an incredibly difficult year in 2018 and the trend continues in 2019 with challenging market prices and destructive weather conditions. Historic hurricanes Florence and Michael, unprecedented wildfires, flooding and other natural disasters devastated agricultural regions throughout the nation,” AFBF President Zippy Duvall said in a letter to House members urging them to support the Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2019 (H.R. 2157).

Estimated agricultural losses in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina total nearly $5.5 billion. Nebraska, Iowa and Missouri currently estimate losses at more than $3 billion.

“Moreover, the full impact for these Midwestern farmers will likely increase as recovery efforts are still ongoing and the impact of losses continue to be calculated. For many farmers, these events have meant near complete losses,” Duvall noted.

The bill provides $3 billion for farm disaster assistance administered through USDA’s Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program, which will help farmers hurt by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019 with expenses related to losses of crops (including on-farm stored commodities), trees, bushes, vines, milk and harvested adulterated wine grapes. Part of the program funding will go toward losses of peach and blueberry crops in 2017 due to extreme cold.

Additionally, the measure provides $150 million for the Rural Development Community Facilities Grant Program, which funds the development of essential community facilities in rural areas, as well as $500 million for the Emergency Conservation Program, which assists farmers and ranchers in rehabilitating farmland damaged by natural disasters.

The disaster assistance bill also gives a boost to Puerto Rico, which encountered its own humanitarian crisis from Hurricanes Irma and Maria, by adding $600 million for Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico, which is not part of USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

AFBF also supported the inclusion of an amendment that increases the Emergency Watershed Program by $310 million. The amendment passed.

Senate leaders have not reached an agreement on how they will handle disaster assistance. Funding for the Nutrition Assistance for Puerto Rico program, which President Trump opposes, has been a sticking point in the Republican-led chamber.