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Congress prevails on disaster aid

Ignoring another veto threat from the White House, the House and Senate have passed a supplemental appropriations bill that includes about $3 billion for agricultural disaster assistance to farmers and ranchers who experienced weather-related losses in 2005-07.

The action came after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders negotiated a compromise bill with the White House that will provide relief for farmers and ranchers who suffered losses from drought and other disasters. President Bush vetoed an earlier supplemental bill that contained disaster aid and set a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq.

Both Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns and President Bush had issued statements saying the administration continued to oppose the latest version of the disaster relief measure as “unnecessary and unwarranted.”

“This is a big victory for family farmers and ranchers across the nation,” said Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., one of the bill’s authors. “The overwhelming support for disaster assistance illustrated by today’s vote sends a clear message to the administration that disaster relief is a national priority.”

House leaders said the reality facing rural communities nationwide — that natural disasters including floods, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, blizzards, freezes and other weather-related events have caused serious damage to farmers and ranchers — made the disaster assistance both necessary and warranted.

“I appreciate the House leadership for remaining steadfast in their support for this assistance, which will help our rural communities recover from weather-related disasters that have damaged local economies over the past few years,” said Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson.

“This Congress has delivered a fiscally responsible package that meets the most pressing needs for assistance in agriculture and rural communities.”

The agriculture disaster assistance package includes assistance for farmers who lost 35 percent or more of their crop in 2005, 2006 or 2007 and for livestock producers in counties that experienced USDA designated natural disasters during that time.

Producers can apply for a disaster payment for only one of those three years, and for the first time, only farmers who had insured their crop through crop insurance or the Non-Insured Assistance Program are eligible for payments.

Conrad, Peterson and others initially sought $5 billion in disaster relief for farmers and ranchers, but, in the end, had to settle for the smaller amount to win tacit approval from the administration.

A coalition of more than 30 farm and allied organizations consistently voiced strong support for the agriculture disaster assistance provisions in the supplemental appropriations bill.

“Our family farmers and ranchers have been waiting far too long for some relief from the weather-related disasters they’ve suffered,” said Conrad. “Our work and the work of our producers has finally paid off, and that’s good news for those who have experienced disasters and wonder whether they will be able to continue farming.”

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