Graves’ legislation is patterned after the emergency economic assistance and crop insurance reform proposals offered by a National Corn Growers Association task force to try to break the deadlock between the Bush administration and House and Senate leaders over disaster aid.

Titled the Companion Disaster Assistance Program Act of 2002, the bill, H.R. 5589, would help farmers who have suffered economic losses caused by severe drought and flooding over the last two years.

“NCGA applauds Rep. Graves for stepping forward and introducing legislation that provides disaster aid to row crop producers without undermining the progress of the federal crop insurance program,” said Ron Litterer, chairman of the NCGA Disaster Task Force and a corn grower from Greene, Iowa.

“Rep. Graves’ bill will help deliver assistance to more producers and, hopefully, encourage greater participation in the federal crop insurance program.”

Lawmakers and administration officials agree that farmers hit by one of the worst droughts since the Dust Bowl era of the 1930s need disaster assistance, but they have been unable to agree on how to fund it.

The Senate passed an amendment to the Department of the Interior appropriations bill providing nearly $6 billion in disaster aid, but Bush administration officials have insisted that any disaster funding be offset by cost reductions in the 2002 farm bill. Congress is still working on all of the Fiscal Year 2003 appropriations bills.

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and other Senate Democrats called on the administration “to end their 237-day-old opposition to immediate emergency disaster assistance for farmers and ranchers.”

Daschle and Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., contend that savings of $5.6 billion in spending projections for the first year of the new farm bill would nearly offset the estimated $6 billion cost of the Senate amendment to the Interior appropriations bill.

But Bush administration officials and House Republican leaders have continued to insist that any disaster assistance funding must come from offsets in farm bill spending.

The National Farmers Union and other farm organizations are supporting a disaster assistance bill sponsored by Reps. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo., and Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., that closely parallels the Senate amendment. But House Speaker Dennis Hastert has yet to schedule debate on the bill.

It was not immediately clear what impact the Graves bill would have on the impasse, but National Corn Growers Association leaders were hoping the bill would receive quick action by House leaders.

In a press release, the NCGA said the Graves legislation would complement the federal crop insurance program by covering a portion of the uninsurable deductible rather than duplicating the insurance coverage under traditional disaster assistance. NCGA also believes CDAP provides an effective means for payments to be delivered sooner because most growers that collect indemnity payments would be eligible to collect the CDAP payments.

“Despite significant improvements made to the federal crop insurance program and farm safety net, economic losses caused by severe drought conditions and floods over the last two years have prompted calls for emergency assistance to help producers rebuild their operations,” the press release said.

While the supplemental market assistance provided to row crop producers by the Congress in recent years has proven extremely helpful, it said, depressed commodity prices and an overall weak economy have deteriorated the financial resources of many producers who have operated within slim margins.

“Today, many insured growers who have been hit with crop losses of 35 to 40 percent receive minimal to no payments under the traditional disaster aid program,” said NCGA’s Litterer. “Worse, their net insurance payments will be small or none. The truth is they can lose more than $50 per acre below the revenue they expected at the time of planting.

“Unlike the 65 percent threshold loss in the current crop disaster program, CDAP provides levels of assistance more proportionate to the degree of losses, beginning with a 20 percent loss in average production,” he added. “The CDAP Act helps fills some of the gaps that exist in the current crop disaster program and our farm safety net.”

Congress, meanwhile, is moving closer to recessing so members can return to their districts to campaign for the Nov. 5 elections. Although, leaders had planned to recess on Oct. 1, most now say it will be Oct. 18 before they can leave.

e-mail: flaws@primediabusiness.com