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Double AMTA payment seems certainty in 01

It now appears all but certain that farmers will receive a supplemental AMTA payment in 2001, a payment some said they needed to secure financing for this year's crop.

Congressional sources said the $5.5 billion in additional funding House and Senate conferees included in the FY 2001 budget resolution agreement would probably be earmarked for an extra AMTA payment for 2001.

The amount would be roughly equal to what Congress appropriated for Agricultural Marketing Transition Act payments in 1999, the figure farm organizations had been shooting for in a supplemental or “double-AMTA” payment sometime this year.

While some farm groups said the $5.5 billion was not enough to address the economic problems, House Agriculture Committee chairman Larry Combest said Congress probably isn't finished. “That doesn't mean it will be all,” he said, adding he expects the final aid package to be similar to last year's.” He also said not all of the $5.5 billion had to be spent prior to the end of the 2001 fiscal year on Sept. 30.

The $5.5 billion was part of $79 billion in additional funding over 10 years that a House and Senate conference committee set aside for agriculture in the non-binding budget resolution for the new fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.

The total includes the $5.5 billion for FY 2001, $7.35 billion for FY 2002 and $66.15 billion for 2003 through 2011. Of the FY 2002 total, $350 million was tagged for additional conservation program spending.

Under the budget resolution, which lays out Congress' spending blueprint for the next 10 years, $171 billion would be available for farm program spending, or $74 billion more than under last year's resolution.

The $5.5 billion is on top of $19.3 billion for farm program spending for FY 2001. All told, Congress has provided more than $25 billion for emergency assistance over the last three years.

Farm organizations had been seeking more funding for the agricultural “baseline” to help put the sector back on its feet after three straight years of poor weather and low prices. While this year's $5.5 billion is a step in the right direction, more will be needed, one group said.

“We are pleased that Congress recognizes the need for additional funding,” said Leland Swenson, National Farmers Union president. “We are disappointed, however, that the emergency funding in this agreement is little more than half of the previous commitment when today's problems are worse.

The Farmers Union and 20 other farm organizations had identified $9 billion as the minimum level needed to address 2001 needs in agriculture. Besides low commodity prices, farmers now face estimated increases of $2 billion or more for fuel and fertilizer inputs.

“With this budget guideline, Congress will have a difficult time addressing the numerous challenges we face in rural America,” said Swenson. “Farmers Union will work aggressively with members of Congress to craft a farm bill that improves market prices for commodities, decreasing the need for direct government assistance.”

Congressional Democrats, complaining they were left out of the budget process by the Republican leadership, also pledged to push for increased funding for the current fiscal year.

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