Disaster Relief Advances

By Chris Clayton
DTN Ag Policy Editor

OMAHA (DTN) -- Congress provided $3 billion in disaster aid for farmers under a disaster package overwhelmingly approved Thursday by the U.S. Senate.

The U.S. Senate passed the $19.1 billion disaster package Thursday 85-8 that would provide more funding, with places affected by Midwest flooding, Southeastern hurricanes, California fires and Puerto Rico's hurricane targeted as the main areas for aid.

On Friday, Texas Republican Chip Roy blocked the legislation in the House, objecting to speeding the measure through a nearly empty chamber and complaining that it didn't contain any of President Donald Trump's $4.5 billion request for dealing with a migrant refugee crisis on the U.S.-Mexico border, the Associated Press reported.

Democrats said the House might try again to pass the bill next week. If that effort fails, a bipartisan vote would come after Congress returns next month from its Memorial Day recess, AP reported.

The bill specifically includes just over $3 billion to pay for farmer losses from disasters that occurred in 2018 and 2019. That is expected to cover Midwest farmers who lost stored grain this spring during flooding along the Missouri River basin.

"Today's announcement of an agreement between the leadership of the House, Senate, and White House on a disaster assistance package is welcomed news to Nebraska farmers and ranchers," said Steve Nelson, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau. "The package will provide much-needed aid to help with recovery from the March flooding and blizzards in our state."

The disaster legislation also waives adjusted gross income (AGI) caps for farmers under the Market Facilitation Program, a move that opens up trade aid to a larger group of higher-income farmers.

The provision will become more important to those producers now that the Trump Administration is planning a second year of MFP payments that was also announced Thursday. (See https://www.dtnpf.com/…)

Lawmakers from Washington State praised the changes on adjusted gross income because that opens the door for cherry producers in that state to receive MFP payments. They had worked to get the AGI cap removed.

"The Northwest Horticultural Council is pleased that this bill will provide all sweet cherry growers, who have (been) and continue to be harmed by the retaliatory tariffs imposed by China, with the opportunity to apply for the trade mitigation offered by USDA," said Mark Powers, president of the Northwest Horticultural Council. "This trade assistance will provide much-needed relief to cherry growers as they continue to weather the storm caused by forces outside of their control."

Several other USDA programs get specific funding under the bill to help farmers, ranchers and forests recover from disasters. The Emergency Conservation Program receives $558 million and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program receives $435 million.

The bill also provided $600 million more supplemental disaster nutrition aid for Puerto Rico.

For communities affected by disasters, the bill includes $600 million for the Economic Development Administration to provide development grants.

For the Army Corps of Engineers, the bill includes under multiple accounts just under $2.5 billion total for various flood and hurricane controls, including repairs and emergency operations, as well maintenance and natural disaster repairs.

The bill also includes language requiring USDA to create a crop insurance program for hemp starting in the 2020 crop year. Congress removed hemp as a controlled substance under the 2018 farm bill and now as many as 45 states have some form of legislation to allow for hemp production.

A full explanation of the legislation can be viewed at https://www.appropriations.senate.gov/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

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