This week, Oregon's Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden sent a letter pressing for disaster relief to be extended as quickly as possible for Oregon ranchers hit by July's wildfires. Following the fires, Senator Merkley introduced the Wildfire and Drought Relief for Ranchers and Farmers Act of 2012, which Senator Wyden has co-sponsored, to extend key disaster programs for farmers and ranchers hit by this summer's extreme weather events.
In the letter to Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow and Ranking Member Pat Roberts, the Senators wrote, "This summer has produced some of the worst droughts and wildfires this country has ever seen." They continued, "Several states have experienced the largest wildfires in decades, destroying millions of acres of rangeland and forests. Yet, in a year when farmers and ranchers are reeling from these disastrous conditions, the disaster relief programs that would provide essential assistance to farmer and ranchers have lapsed. This is unacceptable."
The Senate passed a bipartisan farm bill in June that would extend all of the disaster programs, but the U.S. House of Representatives has not yet passed the farm bill and has not set a timeline to take up the bill on the floor. Because the disaster programs are included in a larger discussion in the House of Representatives regarding the farm bill, Senators Merkley and Wyden wrote today's letter urging colleagues to quickly enact the specific disaster relief extension bill. The programs have lapsed because the 2008 farm bill only authorized them through the end of 2011.
The full text of the letter follows.
August 2, 2012
The Honorable Debbie Stabenow The Honorable Pat Roberts
Chairwoman Ranking Member
Senate Committee on Agriculture, Senate Committee on Agriculture,
Nutrition and Forestry Nutrition and Forestry
328A Russell Senate Office Building 328A Russell Senate Office Building
Washington, DC 20510 Washington, DC 20510
Dear Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Roberts,
This summer has produced some of the worst droughts and wildfires this country has ever seen. Recently, extreme droughts have gripped roughly 80 percent of the nation leading to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretarial Natural Disaster Declaration in more than 1,000 counties, in 26 states. Additionally, several states have experienced the largest wildfires in decades, destroying millions of acres of rangeland and forests.
Yet, in a year when farmers and ranchers are reeling from these disastrous conditions, the disaster relief programs that would provide essential assistance to farmer and ranchers have lapsed. This is unacceptable.
We applaud your bipartisan leadership to reauthorize crucial disaster relief programs in the Senate-passed Farm Bill. Passage of the Farm Bill would ensure that disaster relief programs are not only available this year, but would also provide certainty to all that depend on these programs for years to come.
Undoubtedly, the best solution to assist our farmers and ranchers would be for Congress to pass a Farm Bill that includes funding for these disaster programs. However, because the House has not yet taken up the Senate Farm Bill, or passed their own Farm Bill, opportunities to fund these programs this year are slipping away. Farmers and ranchers cannot afford to gamble their livelihoods on the success or failure of brinkmanship here in Congress--they need the assurance that this will get done.
Without these key disaster relief programs, farmers and ranchers who have lost crops and livestock this year are left with few options. We ask for your support for passage of these disaster relief programs on the fastest timeline possible, and in no case later than the end of September. We look forward to working with you in this effort.