Today, Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX) helped pass a disaster aid package that will provide $383 million in drought relief to famers and producers, while also cutting the federal deficit by $256 million. This package, called the Agricultural Disaster Assistance Act, will provide disaster assistance for producers of livestock and fruits and vegetables, whose access to disaster relief has been compromised by the inability of the House of Representatives to pass a full five-year farm bill package. Over 75% of agriculture producers in the United States are currently being affected by drought.
"As we struggle through one of the worst droughts we've seen in the last hundred years, the bill I helped pass will provide immediate relief to the farmers and producers we depend on to keep food on the tables of Texans and families across America," said Cuellar. "Like many farmers and producers, I would have strongly preferred that we had also voted on a full five-year farm bill package give farmers, producers, and families relying on nutrition programs the strong and fair farm bill they deserve. However, the drought relief assistance we passed today is necessary to make sure that Congress can immediately provide emergency assistance to the 75% of agriculture producers who are affected by drought."
This bill reauthorizes four agricultural disaster assistance programs that expired at the end of the 2011 fiscal year and will provide assistance and certainty to farmers and producers in the 2012 fiscal year. The four programs it reauthorizes are the Livestock Forage Disaster Program (LFP), Livestock Indemnity Payments (LIP), Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees, and Farm-Raised Fish (ELAP) and Tree Assistance Program (TAP).
Key farm groups issued a statement indicating that they would have preferred that the House of Representatives consider the five-year, comprehensive farm bill that Cuellar supported as a member of the House Agriculture Committee rather than this stand-alone disaster assistance bill. The farm bill passed by the Agriculture Committee includes the same retroactive reauthorization of these four disaster assistance programs.
Cuellar has led a bipartisan coalition of members in urging Speaker John Boehner and the House Leadership to bring the full farm bill to a vote so that farmers and producers are not left in limbo. Both the Senate and the House Agriculture Committee have passed versions of the farm bill. The version of the farm bill supported by Cuellar passed the House Agriculture Committee on July 12 with a strong bipartisan vote of 35-11.
"Congress has an obligation to move swiftly to reauthorize the programs that feed American families," said Cuellar. "With expiration dates on a number of farm-related programs barreling toward us, inaction carries potentially devastating consequences for many farmers, producers and American families. The 2012 Farm Bill isn't perfect yet, but let's bring this bill for debate on the House floor to make sure that the voices of farmers and families affected by this bill are heard."
If Congress does not act to reauthorize the farm bill, many existing programs--including disaster assistance and livestock and crop assistance--will expire on September 30, 2012. Failure to pass a new farm bill or extend existing policy would mean the elimination of many of the decades-old programs on which American farmers and producers rely. The interruption of these effective and economical programs would cause massive disruptions for farmers and producers and carry the risk of causing domestic food prices to skyrocket.