Administration implements drought aid, pushes Congress to move

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, August 8, 2012- The White House announced this week several measures the Administration is implementing to address the drought and criticized Congress for not yet passing a disaster aid package or a five-year farm bill. 

“Congress still needs to act to ensure that the needed disaster assistance is available to these communities,” stated the White House release. “The best way to do that is by passing a comprehensive, multi-year farm bill that not only provides much-needed disaster assistance but gives farmers and ranchers the certainty they deserve while enacting critical reforms.”

During the American Sugar Alliance's 29th International Sweetener Symposium, Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services at USDA Michael Scuse stressed the need for a five-year farm bill this year, especially for livestock producers currently without disaster assistance. He outlined efforts USDA is taking to provide disaster aid, including speeding up the secretarial proclamation for disaster areas. 

“We've used all the tools in our toolbox, now it's time for Congress to start using theirs,” Scuse said, noting that the Senate “has moved forward with their farm bill.” 

Without farm bill passage before the current legislation expires on Sept. 30, Scuse said he has “a genuine fear that if we kick the can down the road, I think we'll have our baseline eroded.” He also noted the uncertainty in funding for USDA and farm bill programs in the event of sequestration under the Budget Control Act to take place in 2013. 

“Leadership doesn't mean you block things from happening,” he said, commenting on the stalled farm bill in the House. “It means you have a plan and you get it done.”

Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Idaho, addressed ASA members during the symposium, but told them, “I don't think you'll get a farm bill” this year and that a one-year extension is most likely in the House. However, comments from House Agriculture Committee members, including Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, had a more optimistic note. They stressed their intentions to pull for a five-year compromise bill in September. 

“I have abiding faith that we will get a farm bill this year,” Conaway told symposium attendees, at least within the calendar year, if not before Sept. 30. 

The following are some measures included in the Administration's immediate intentions for drought disaster assistance: 

Among the Administration's actions highlighted by the White House this week, USDA will provide $16 million in emergency funding for livestock and crop producers in 19 states. USDA will also initiate a transfer of $14 million in unobligated program funds into the Emergency Conservation Program. 

The National Credit Union Administration will allow an additional 1,000 Credit Unions to increase their lending to small businesses. Those credit unions are eligible for a low-income designation, which permits unlimited lending to small business owners including farmers; nearly half of those eligible credit unions are located in a severely drought-stricken state, said the White House. The designation exempts these credit unions from the 12.25 percent lending cap rate.

The Department of Transportation is providing emergency exemptions for federal operation requirements. If a qualifying drought emergency has been declared in a state by the Governor or appropriate official, the state automatically gets Hours of Service and other regulatory relief for those providing emergency assistance; no application is needed. 

As of August 1, 2012, the sixteen major providers of U.S. crop insurance have all agreed to forego interest charges on unpaid premiums through November. 

On July 12, USDA announced an expedited disaster designation process, allowing farmers and ranchers to obtain disaster assistance faster. USDA projects a 40 percent reduction in processing time for affected producers as a result of this change. 

Effective July 15, the Administration lowered the interest rate on emergency loans from 3.75 percent down to 2.25 percent.

CRP grassland acres are opened for emergency haying and grazing and the payment penalty for haying and grazing is reduced from 25 percent to 10 percent. 

The Department of the Interior's Bureau of Land Management and the USDA Forest Service are providing relief to ranchers who graze on public lands by issuing refunds to cattlemen that were displaced by early season fires and therefore not able to make use of their allotments. 

For the White House outline, go here

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