Fern's Ag Insider: Senate committee to vote on $7 billion in disaster aid for farmers

by Chuck Abbott

Farm-state senators celebrated the first step of including $7 billion for disaster relief in the annual USDA-FDA funding bill, with a crucial vote looming on Thursday in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Action in the Senate mirrored efforts in the House last week to help farmers and ranchers in the face of wildfires, drought and floods.

“West of the Mississippi, we’ve got a hell of a drought. East of the Mississippi, you got flooding. We got problems everywhere,” said Montana Sen. Jon Tester during a nine-minute Appropriations subcommittee meeting on the USDA-FDA bill. Panel members approved the bill on a voice vote, clearing it for a vote by the full committee.

They included $6.28 billion in relief for losses to drought, floods, wildfires, hurricanes and other natural disasters in 2020 and this year, and $750 million for livestock producers for losses this year due to drought and wildfire.

Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, who chairs the subcommittee, said inclusion of the $7 billion would be welcome news throughout the agricultural sector.

“This will help to cover losses and keep our producers in the game as they overcome these challenges,” said North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven, the senior Republican on the subcommittee. Hoeven said he worked with Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, the Republican leader on the Senate Agriculture Committee, on the disaster funding.

The Senate Appropriations Committee is to vote on three funding bills on Thursday, including fiscal 2022 funds for USDA, FDA and related agencies.

A week ago, the House Agriculture Committee approved an $8.5 billion disaster relief bill that would cover crop and livestock losses in 2020 and 2021 by expanding the so-called WHIP-Plus program. The Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program-Plus was created in response to catastrophes in 2018 and 2019. Lawmakers said aid would reach producers more rapidly because they were using an existing program rather than expecting USDA to spend months in constructing a new one. In most instances, farmers would be eligible for up to $250,000 a year in aid under the House bill.