Lawmakers reached agreement on a $19.1 billion disaster package Thursday that was expanded to include payments for producers who are unable to plant their crops this year as well as to growers whose stored corn and soybeans were damaged by flooding.
Producers who lost crops to the 2018 hurricanes and wildfires also would qualify for payments.
Growers can already apply for crop insurance benefits when they are unable to seed the covered crop by dates that vary by commodity and region.
Under the bill, the combination of disaster payments and crop insurance benefits or Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) payments would be limited to 90 percent of a farmer’s loss. Disaster payments to farmers who didn't buy crop insurance would be capped at 70 percent of their loss.
The disaster aid package also includes a provision ensuring that industrial hemp will be eligible for whole-farm insurance policies starting in 2020. That provision was a priority for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
The Senate approved the bill 85-8 Thursday before breaking for its week-long Memorial Day recess. The House could consider clearing the bill on a voice vote Friday.
Passage of the bill had been delayed for months because of disputes between the White House and congressional Democrats over funding for Puerto Rico that Democrats wanted and border security spending that President Donald Trump was demanding. The final deal left out the border funding.
“I want to thank President Trump for breaking the gridlock and getting this disaster relief to Americans who so desperately need it,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala. “We have been working on this package for several months, and I am pleased to say that help is finally on the way.”
Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said, "It’s good that Republicans finally came to their senses and realized that Puerto Rico and other disaster impacted areas deserve to be treated fairly and that extraneous provisions shouldn’t be added to the disaster relief package."
Also included in the bill for USDA:
- $558 million for the Emergency Conservation Program, to help farmers restore strom-damaged land.
- $480 million for the Emergency Forest Restoration Program
- $435 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program, which assists landowners and communities in restoring culverts, stream banks, levees and other infrastructure.
The agriculture spending in the bill, including the direct payments to farmers, is expected to total $5.5 billion, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The payments for prevented planting would benefit farmers who make claims for the new Market Facilitation Program that the Trump administration announced earlier Thursday. The payments to corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat and other non-specialty crops will be based on a farmer's 2019 planted acreage.
Read the text of the disaster aid bill here.
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