Still No Farm Bill, But More Assistance to Drought-Ravaged States
By Jim Malewitz, Staff Writer
As the worst drought in decades strengthens its grip across much of the U.S., leaving shriveled crops and dead livestock in its wake, the Obama administration will authorize an additional $30 million to help struggling farmers, ranchers and small business owners cope with its impacts.
Farmers and ranchers in the 19 states hit hardest by the drought will get $16 million in financial and technical assistance, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture will transfer $14 million into a program that helps rehabilitate drought-ravaged land and deliver water and forage to livestock, the administration announced this week.
Close to two-thirds of the continental U.S. faces moderate or exceptional drought, and in some areas, prime farm and ranchland has been hit the hardest.
“This has been an all-hands-on-deck response… But obviously, we’ve got a lot more to do because a lot of folks are being affected by this,” Obama said Tuesday (August 7) at a White House meeting on the drought response, according to ABC News.
“We’re going to continue to solicit ideas from state and local organizations, faith-based organizations, not-for-profit groups, the private sector, and most of all, the farmers and ranchers that are directly impacted, to find additional ways that we can help,” the president said. “Because when there’s a disaster like this, everybody needs to pull together."
That assistance comes as Congress struggles to find agreement on a farm bill. In June, the Senate passed a 5-year, $500 billion package, but the GOP-led House wants a much sleeker bill, which would include than $16 billion in cuts to food stamps — much more than the $4.5 billion cut under the Senate bill.
“My hope is that Congress, many of whom will be traveling back to their districts, in some cases in rural communities, and see what’s taking place there, will feel a greater sense of urgency and be prepared to get this done immediately upon their return,” Obama said, according to ABC News.
Before adjourning last week for a 5-week recess, the House passed a one-year bill that would provide $383 million for ranchers, who tend to face greater challenges than farmers, most of whom have federal crop insurance. But as Reuters reported, aid recipients under the bill wouldn’t see payments for months. The Senate did not consider it before the recess.
On Wednesday, the Obama administration added 44 counties in 12 states to its list of disaster zones, making farmers there eligible for emergency low-interest loans. In all this year, nearly 1,500 counties in 33 states have been declared disaster zones because of drought.
In Iowa, where 52 of the state’s 99 counties are now on the list, Governor Terry Branstad, a Republican, said he is thankful for the federal help.
“This disaster designation will provide affected Iowans with additional resources during these difficult times,” he said in a statement.
Branstad has expressed hope that Congress will pass the farm bill, calling a deal, according to the Ottumwa Courier, “one of the few things that could get done” before the November election.