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Public Statements

Continuing Appropriations

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. JOHNSON of South Dakota. Mr. President, I rise to talk about the devastation that has been inflicted on many in my home State. An early season snowstorm has dumped 1 foot of snow and heavy winds on much of western South Dakota. The thoughts and prayers of Barbara and I are with those affected by this disastrous storm.

Communities and residents are wrestling with the damage caused by downed trees, and utility companies are facing power outages. County, community, and emergency officials have shared with my office numerous stories of volunteers stepping in to help to transport medicines and oxygen to residents stranded in their homes.

Neighbors are helping assist each other with cutting down tree limbs, snow removal, and getting essential food items and medical supplies to the elderly and disabled residents. There are countless reports of people helping to move stuck drivers out of snowdrifts or helping to shovel the roofs and snow from the home of a senior citizen or disabled residents. When people are in need, South Dakotans step up.

One of the most significant impacts of the storm has been on my State's livestock producers. ``Tens of thousands of cattle killed in Friday's blizzard ..... '' proclaims the Rapid City Journal headline.

Silvia Christen, with the South Dakota Stockgrowers Association, has shared with me gut-wrenching stories of ranchers who have lost their herds. She said a man near Interior found his cows had pushed themselves and their calves over a Badlands wall and killed many of them. He estimates his loss at 50 percent of his total herd.

A young man east of Hermosa estimates he lost 30 percent of his 200 breeding cows. He found them all in one pile in a draw covered in snow. He saw the heads and hooves sticking out from the snow and can't bring himself to go closer or dig them out. He stated:

I'm young, but I always thought I was a good rancher. I thought I'd taken care of them but I guess I should have done more.

He hung up the phone with an apology as his voice broke.

Our cowboys are resilient people, but this blizzard comes on the heels of a devastating drought last year from which ranchers still haven't fully recovered.

I am very proud of our State and local officials who have taken immediate action to assist those in need. The National Guard is conducting lifesaving safety operations to ensure folks without power are OK and to open roads. The State is working with a local rendering company to assist with finding, identifying, and dealing with livestock that have been killed. Our ag organizations in the State are providing help and guidance to ranchers who were hit.

The one place where help is lacking is from the Federal Government. Because of the government shutdown, producers can't rely on their FSA offices for assistance.

Since Congress hasn't finished the farm bill, West River ranchers may have to wait for disaster assistance. The 2008 farm bill included several critical disaster assistance programs, including the Livestock Indemnity Program, which provides help to producers affected by natural disasters. Unfortunately, that program expired in 2011, and because Congress hasn't yet completed a comprehensive farm bill, there continues to be no funding available for them.

We passed a good farm bill here in the Senate twice in the past 2 years. I worked to include funding for these livestock disaster programs, which are in both the Senate and House bills. The Senate is ready to negotiate the farm bill, but the House hasn't appointed conferees. The longer they delay, the longer my constituents will suffer without disaster aid.

The House needs to pass a clean continuing resolution, and they need to appoint conferees so that we can finally finish the farm bill.

It will take many months for the Black Hills communities to clean up from the October blizzard. For ranchers who lost livestock, it may take years to recover. But whatever Mother Nature has to deliver, it cannot dampen the spirit of South Dakotans.

Mr. President, I yield the floor, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


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