A stopgap-funding bill that will keep the government operating this fall includes a $10 billion expansion in agricultural disaster aid and temporarily extends authority for USDA’s livestock price reporting system.
With the new fiscal year starting Friday, Congress has yet to pass any of the dozen funding bills for fiscal 2022, but President Joe Biden on Thursday evening signed into law a continuing resolution that will keep the government funded at FY21 levels through Dec. 3.
Thursday afternoon, the Senate approved the measure, 65-35, and the House quickly followed through and passed it, 254-175.
“In addition to the temporary funding extension, this bill responds to recent emergencies such as hurricanes, storms, wildfires, extreme heat and severe droughts," said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. "Thousands of Americans across the United States are still suffering from the impact of these many recent disasters."
The ag disaster assistance in the continuing resolution will help cover 2020 and 2021 crop year losses through USDA’s Wildlife and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus, with funds remaining available until 2023. The funding also was included in an earlier version of the CR, but Republicans blocked its passage in the Senate because it would have increased the government debt ceiling.
The new funding would cover a wide range of disasters across the country - droughts, wildfire, hurricanes, floods, derechos, excessive heat, winter storms, freeze, including a polar vortex, smoke exposure, quality losses of crops, and excessive moisture.” Wine grapes that were tainted by wildfire smoke would also qualify for payments. The WHIP Plus program that Congress authorized for 2018-2019 applied to losses from hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, snowstorms and wildfires.
Producers across the western U.S. and the northern Plains have dealt with an extensive drought over the last year, which has forced some producers to sell their cattle.
Drought losses would be eligible if the producer's county was classified as in a severe, extreme, or worse drought for eight consecutive weeks as designated by the U.S Drought Monitor.
Producers who get WHIP Plus payments will be required to sign up for crop insurance.
Nearly $750 million would go toward paying livestock producers for 2021 losses incurred by wildfire or drought. Provisions in the bill also give dairy cooperatives the option to distribute government payments to producers who were affected by wildfires and drought in 2021. The payment would be distributed through USDA and can go to dairy cooperatives to be passed directly to farmer members if they elect to do so.
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USDA's authority to continue the livestock price reporting system is also extended in the the bill. “That’s a good thing," Senate Minority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told Agri-Pulse in a Washington Week in Review interview. "We’re looking for changes to (the reporting system) that are reforms. But probably we’ll have to wait until the next farm bill to get that done.” Authority for the program was scheduled to expire Thursday.
The Emergency Watershed Protection Program receives $275 million under the bill. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service administers the program which helps communities recover from natural disasters.
The Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, also known as WIC, will also continue operating under the funding bill. In the first half of 2022, the Secretary of Agriculture “shall increase the amount of cash-value voucher to an amount recommended by the National Academy of Science, Engineering and Medicine,” that is adjusted for inflation, the bill noted.
About $25 million is designated for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program to continue to provide loans to help eligible applicants with working capital, debt refinancing, buying equipment, and improving real estate.