Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees say farmers’ repeated need for disaster assistance will be an issue as lawmakers write the next farm bill.

“We’ve got some tough questions to really work through” when it comes to disaster aid, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow told members of the North American Agricultural Journalists, who were holding their annual meeting this week.

She said that the recent expansion of crop insurance to more crops, including tart cherries grown in her home state of Michigan, has helped more farmers recover from disasters.

“But now the question comes … what else do we need to do to mitigate what’s going on?” She said there will “be a lot of discussion” about disaster aid “as we go forward here looking at the farm bill.”

Congress has authorized a series of temporary programs, known as the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program or WHIP Plus, for damages going back to 2017. The most recent version of WHIP Plus was enacted last fall to cover damage from disasters in 2020 and 2021.

The Senate committee’s top Republican, John Boozman of Arkansas, said he’s concerned that it can take up to two years for farmers to get assistance under the existing aid programs. But he said he doesn’t know how Congress should address the issue in the farm bill.

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“I don’t know what that looks like,” he said of a possible program. "I just think these are questions that we need to be asking.”

The top Republican on the House Agriculture Committee, Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., agreed the committees need to examine the way disaster aid is being distributed. But he said disaster assistance “should never discourage people” from buying crop insurance, “because the moment you do that, that safety net program will collapse.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., said last year that he was working on a plan for a permanent disaster assistance program but hasn’t released a proposal. He didn’t meet with the ag journalists this week.

The Senate Agriculture Committee is starting its farm bill hearings on Friday at Michigan State University. The House Agriculture Committee started its hearings early in the year. They will continue Wednesday with a hearing on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

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