The House Agriculture Committee advanced a bill to provide as much as $8.5 billion in supplemental disaster aid for farmers and ranchers who faced disaster both in 2020 and 2021.
The bill, passed unanimously by voice vote, will expand coverage of losses under USDA’s Wildfire Hurricane Indemnity Program-Plus (WHIP-Plus) and cover losses including those from wildfires last year in California as well as the derecho that hit Midwestern producers last summer. The aid will also cover producer losses this year from the polar vortex as well as farmers whose crops are in D-2 “severe” drought conditions for at least eight consecutive weeks.
The WHIP-Plus bill will include payments for qualified losses for unharvested acres, payment to certain dairy processors, as well as dairy and sugar cooperatives. The bill also includes an option for USDA to provide block grants to processors affected by disaster.
The unanimous committee support for the bill reflected the widespread nature of crop and livestock disasters going back to the beginning of 2020. Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, highlighted that lawmakers from several parts of the country had been pushing for disaster aid for their states going back to last year. He also pointed to the slow process of trying to get ad-hoc disaster aid approved.
“We have got to be able to have the Secretary of Agriculture to have some funds available there,” Scott said, noting WHIP-Plus is still paying for disasters going back to 2019. “Our appropriations process sometimes takes two years. Many of our farmers haven’t gotten the aid yet.”
Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., ranking member of the committee, pointed to the current fires raging in western states and drought in Plains states, as well as flooding in the Mississippi Delta region. “It seems like no producer has been spared the wrath of Mother Nature this year,” he said. “That is why it is important we build some momentum for relief,” Thompson added.
Producers who receive assistance under WHIP-Plus as part of the bill will be required to purchase crop insurance coverage for the next two years with at least 60% coverage level, the bill language states.
Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers said, ““NAWG is pleased to see the House Agriculture Committee working in a bipartisan fashion to deliver much-needed assistance to growers impacted by natural disasters. Currently, wheat growers in the upper plains and across the western United States are experiencing an unprecedented drought.
“This legislation makes meaningful improvements to WHIP+,” Goule continued. “Particularly in the trigger for drought assistance, excessive heat, and freeze. As Congress continues to work to get needed support to growers, NAWG will continue to work with our states, legislators, and USDA to enhance WHIP+ and challenges associated with the Quality Loss Adjustment program.”
DTN/National Association of Wheat Growers