Farmers’ hopes for disaster aid near-term received a setback last week when the House passed a $174 billion jobs package that did not contain the assistance for weather losses during the 2009 harvest they’ve been seeking.
Sponsors of a bill that would provide supplemental direct payments to farmers in counties that have been declared disaster areas were unable to attach an amendment to the jobs package that redirects $75 billion in Troubled Asset Relief Program savings to fund infrastructure and job investments.
Congressional staffers who have been working on the disaster legislation said it will be difficult to find another legislative vehicle that could be used to distribute assistance to farmers before they begin planting the 2010 crops. Payments under the government’s new permanent disaster aid program (SURE) will not be available until 2011.
“The Senate still has its jobs bill, but time is quickly running out,” said an aide to one member of Congress. “Based on history, it will be difficult to amend any other pieces of legislation.”
Although the jobs package contained no funding for disaster aid, it does provide $100 million in funding for civil rights cases that have been filed against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over the last two decades.
The disaster bill sponsored by Reps. Travis Childers, D-Miss., and Marion Berry, D-Ark., would provide $2 billion to farmers in disaster-declared counties along with livestock and specialty crop producers. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate by Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker, both Mississippi Republicans, and Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.
Of the $75 billion in TARP funds, $43.8 billion of this funding will go toward infrastructure investments, including $27.5 billion for highway infrastructure investments, $8.4 billion for public transportation investments, $2 billion for clean water programs, $2 billion for energy innovation loans, $4.1 billion for school renovation grants, $1 billion for the National Housing Trust Fund, and $1 billion for the Public Housing Capital Fund.
A total of $26.7 billion out of the total $75 billion will go toward public service jobs, including $23 billion for an Education Jobs Fund, $1.18 billion for law enforcement jobs, $500 million for firefighter jobs, $500 million for summer youth employment, and $750 million for job training for high growth fields.
The amendment also provides $79 billion in continuing emergency funding, including $41 billion to extend unemployment insurance for six months, $12.3 billion to extend from nine to 15 months the 65 percent COBRA health insurance subsidy, $354 million for small business loan programs, $23.5 billion to extend FMAP through June 2010, and $2.3 billion to increase eligibility for the child tax credit.
The 217-212 vote on the jobs package was along party lines with no Republican House members supporting the measure and 38 Democrats voting against it.