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|Landrieu says farm aid part of economic stimulus package|
Relief for farmers will be part of the economic stimulus package set to come before the U.S. Senate in January, Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu said this week.
"The crop damage in Concordia Parish is truly devastating, and I have made it my top priority to ensure that the appropriate aid reaches these farmers as soon as possible," said Landrieu. "The $1.2 billion in assistance that I have secured in the economic stimulus package, due to be acted on by the Senate in January, will go immediately to farmers who have been devastated by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, Tropical Storm Fay, the Midwest floods and recent tornadoes, wildfires and droughts."
She said this "aid would undoubtedly reach farmers more quickly than any alternative, including the agricultural disaster relief that was part of the 2008 Farm Bill under the SURE program, for which the regulations have not yet been written."
"Moving this agricultural relief bill into an economic stimulus to boost the national economy brings the assistance one step closer to the farmers who desperately need it," she said. "With damages to crops causing about $1 billion in lost revenue to Louisiana alone, our sugar, rice, cotton, wheat, corn, sugar beet, sweet potato and other farmers cannot afford for Congress to drag its feet on providing assistance."
Landrieu said that with "this inclusion in the stimulus, the outlook for passage by early in the New Year has greatly improved, and I will be working with my colleagues to make our farmers a top priority in the 111th Congress."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Appropriations Chairman Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., included Landrieu's agriculture relief language at her request, but the Senate is not expected to act on it until January due to pending partisan opposition to the broad stimulus legislation. .
"We have made significant progress in moving this critical agriculture relief closer to getting in the hands of our farmers," Landrieu said. "Senators Reid and Byrd have recognized the necessity of getting immediate help to our struggling agriculture community and included the funding in an economic stimulus bill to boost the national economy."
Landrieu has been working since Hurricanes Gustav and Ike to pass a bill that will send $1.22 billion in immediate assistance to farmers impacted by the hurricanes, Tropical Storm Fay, the Midwest floods, and recent tornadoes, wildfires and droughts. In Louisiana alone, the 2008 hurricanes have wrought $1 billion in lost revenue, and Louisiana's Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain has called for help from the federal government.
The 2008 Farm Bill created an agricultural disaster relief program called SURE, but regulations have not been set yet for its administration, and farmers are unable to receive any assistance under the program until late next year at the earliest. Sen. Landrieu's language in the economic stimulus bill would make funding immediately available to farmers for damage to crops including sugar, rice, cotton, wheat, corn, sugar beets, sweet potatoes and others.
In October, Sen. Landrieu vetted the language with each member of the Senate and only Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma objected. Employing a Senate procedure called a "hold" to prevent its passage, Coburn's objection to the bill came despite its potential benefit to Oklahoma farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture in July designated nine counties in Oklahoma as natural disasters because of drought, extreme heat and high winds. Oklahoma farmers in those counties would be eligible for assistance under the Landrieu proposal.
"What Senator Landrieu is asking for here is exactly what needs to be done - and that is a bridge program to deal with the current emergency until the disaster program that's part of the Farm Bill is in effect," said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., on the Senate floor on September 27. Conrad authored the relief program in the original Farm Bill and cosponsored the Landrieu legislation.
Sen. Landrieu's bill was also cosponsored by Sens. David Vitter, R-La.; Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas; Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark.; Mark Pryor, D-Ark.; Roger Wicker, R-Miss.; and Thad Cochran, R-Miss. Congressman Don Cazayoux, D-La., has introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives with Reps. Rodney Alexander, R-La., and Charlie Melancon, D-La.
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