Many farmers will be displeased that the Senate jobs bill that passed on Tuesday contained no agriculture disaster package. However, Mid-South legislators’ staff members and agricultural organizations Delta Farm Press has spoken with say disaster funds may be included in upcoming legislation.
The jobs bill that passed “did not, unfortunately, contain an (agriculture) disaster piece,” said Courtney Rowe of the Senate Agriculture Committee, which is chaired by Arkansas Sen. Blanch Lincoln. “We’re working with leadership to get that in the next package that moves.”
Originally, the Baucus/Grassley bipartisan jobs bill that originated in the Senate Finance Committee contained disaster funds (for more, see Ag-disaster package in limbo). That was before Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid traded that bill for a scaled-down version of his own. Reid’s jobs bill contained only four provisions — and agriculture disaster funds weren’t included.
Since then, said one Mid-South Congressional staffer, “we’ve talked with Sen. Reid and he’s told us he’ll help get agriculture disaster funds in the next legislative train leaving the station. We’ll try and hold him to that.”
The Senate plan, says Tara Smith of the American Farm Bureau Federation, is actually to move “the jobs bill in pieces. The piece that just passed was identified by Democrats as the piece most directly related to job creation.”
The second piece — which is also expected to include tax provisions to help the biodiesel industry — “is being worked on now. We know something has been sent to the Congressional Budget Office to be scored. So far, it includes ag disaster assistance. But, as we’ve learned, until it’s on the floor there’s always a chance things could change and (that package) could be pulled. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.”
Is there a time frame on introduction of the second piece?
“Soon — Sen. Reid has said he’ll bring a second jobs package forward,” said Smith. “We’re all pretty certain that will happen. The question is whether it will include agriculture disaster funds in the end? And how much will there be for ag disaster?”
Is agriculture disaster funding for the “second piece” still at $1.5 billion?
“Yes, it’s $1.5 billion for the total package — $1.1 billion is for supplementary direct payments.”
Farm Bureau, says Smith, “has had quite a few farmers call to say they’ll have a hard time without assistance. Frankly, a lot of those calls have come from the South — Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and other places that were hard-hit (in 2009).”