White House plan offers help to farmers, communities hurt by drought

By Daniel Enoch

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, June 12, 2015 - The Obama administration today announced new initiatives and investments of more than $110 million to support farmers, ranchers, agricultural workers and rural communities suffering from drought and to combat wildfires in what's forecast to be a busier-than-usual fire season.

As part of the plan the Labor Department will award as much as $18 million to the state of California to fund jobs for workers dislocated by the drought. The money will provide jobs for 1,000 workers for up to 6 months with public and nonprofit agencies working to build drought resilience, reduce wildfire risk and improve water efficiency. Other states that can document drought-impacted job losses will have the option to apply for similar Dislocated Worker Grants, the White House said.

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In a fact sheet, the administration noted that a recent University of California-Davis study estimates that California alone has lost an estimated 18,000 jobs because of drought, particularly in the agricultural sector.

Other agriculture-related actions the administration cited include:

--Expansion of a USDA program that allows farmers to exclude their exceptionally bad production years, which are often the result of drought, from the calculation of their crop insurance coverage. This ensures that a bad year or two caused by drought does not significantly reduce their crop insurance coverage. This action will provide an estimated $30 million in additional relief to farmers in Fiscal Year 2016, and $42 million in Fiscal Year 2017. For a separate story on this plan, click here.

--Continuing support for USDA's Livestock Forage Disaster Program, which is expected to provide at least $1.2 billion in assistance to livestock producers in Fiscal Year 2015. The program, made possible by the 2014 farm bill, provides compensation to farmers and ranchers who suffer grazing losses because of drought or fire.

--A commitment by USDA's Food and Nutrition Service to work with faith-based and community groups to help them establish at least 760 summer food service meal sites in drought-impacted communities in California's Central Valley in 2015. The plan is designed to help families hardest hit by the drought.

Earlier Friday, President Obama and a number of his Cabinet officials and governors from several Western states took part in a briefing on drought and wildfire via a video teleconference. Administration officials made a push for a plan the president proposed in his FY 2016 budget that treats suppression of the most severe fire activity the same as the government treats other natural disasters.

The plan, embodied in the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (H.R. 167), would allow the costs of fighting the few truly catastrophic wildfires that break out every year through an emergency fund. The Forest Service and Interior Department would continue to fund routine firefighting from their regular budgets. Under current procedures, money is set aside in the budget for wildfires at the 10-year average cost. But when costs go beyond that, funds must be borrowed from non-firefighting programs, which has happened in eight of the past 10 years.

The administration also said it will provide $10 million to fund 10 Wildland Fire Resilient Landscapes Projects. Currently in its first year of funding from Congress, selected projects emphasize collaborative landscape-scale planning across multiple jurisdictions in order to lessen the risk from catastrophic wildfire and enhance the protection of critical natural resources and watersheds. The president's FY 2016 budget proposes $30 million for the program to provide multiyear support for such projects and expand the program to new partnerships.

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