House Appropriations Committee members voted along party lines to reject an amendment that would have provided $3.4 billion in assistance to farmers who experienced losses due to hurricanes, droughts or other weather disasters in 2005.
Rep. Marion Berry, D-Ark., offered the legislation as an amendment to a $92.2-billion emergency-spending bill to fund ongoing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and for hurricane-affected states on the Gulf Coast. The Missouri Bootheel's Jo Ann Emerson was the lone Republican voting for the amendment.
Berry, who introduced a similar amendment to the fiscal year 2006 agricultural appropriations bill last September, was almost philosophical about the 34-27 vote denying the disaster assistance funding.
“This country will be in a great deal of trouble if we continue to ignore the economic depression facing our farm communities,” he said. “I have warned my colleagues over and over again about the dire conditions in rural America and hope some of them will keep those warnings in mind as we prepare the budget for the coming year.”
The amendment would appropriate $3.4 billion to offer farmers a supplement payment equal to 50 percent of their direct payment or a payment based on a yield loss of at least 35 percent during the 2005 season.
Berry's amendment would also provide additional funding for livestock assistance, specialty crop assistance, and Louisiana sugarcane assistance.
Farmers and ranchers across America suffered heavy crop and livestock losses from natural disasters including hurricanes, fires, floods and severe drought as well as record input costs for diesel fuel, natural gas, and fertilizer.
USDA has designated roughly 80 percent of the nation's counties as disaster or contiguous disaster areas due to devastating hurricanes, fires, floods and severe drought. States like Arkansas, Texas, Illinois, Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio, and Oklahoma have experienced USDA disaster declarations for 100 percent of their counties.
“While we need to do everything possible to help the citizens of the Gulf Coast, we must recognize the widespread impact of these natural disasters,” said Berry, who represents Arkansas' 1st Congressional District. “If we do not address this situation today, the long-term cost to our rural communities will be unbearable. I believe history will prove it was a mistake for Congress not to pass this amendment when it had the chance.”
Prior to the vote, 23 agricultural organizations signed a letter to the House and Senate Agriculture and Appropriations Committees supporting agricultural disaster assistance to deal with natural disasters and spiking input costs.
In the letters, the groups urged Congress to enact an option for producers to receive either crop loss assistance or economic loss assistance in the form of a supplemental direct payment. These options would provide producers with assistance to cope with crop losses and other extraordinary costs and losses related to the many disasters affecting producers in 2005.
“Our hats are off to the dogged determination of our champions as they continue to strive to help producers ride out the natural and economic storms engulfing them,” the National Sorghum Producers said in a statement following the vote.