December 21, 2014

Stalled Farm Bill could hold up drought disaster relief for farmers

A stalled Farm Bill could hold the key to helping Nebraska farmers and ranchers offset losses due to the lingering drought.

Sen. Ben Nelson harshly criticized Republican leaders in the House of Representatives for failing to bring the Farm Bill to the House floor for debate during his conference call with Nebraska reporters this week. The House Agriculture Committee approved the bill on an overwhelming and bi-partisan vote.

Nelson, a Democrat, pointed out disaster assistance that could be used to help farmers and livestock producers offset losses expired last year.

“So, right now there’s a lack of disaster aid to help Nebraska’s ranchers recover from what they’re losing to these fires and even the drought, because the House of Representatives hasn’t passed its Farm Bill,” Nelson stated.

Nelson accused House Republicans of being more interested in sending political messages than in passing needed legislation.

“It’s an easy case to make,” according to Nelson. “Nebraska needs this Farm Bill now and the House needs to stop playing political games while our state is burning,”

Though Sen. Mike Johanns declined to be critical of his fellow Republicans in the House, he acknowledged that Congress needs to re-authorize agricultural disaster relief programs.

“We need to get that fixed,” Johanns told Nebraska reporters during his conference call. “I’m ready to do whatever work is necessary on the Senate side. We need the House to take action on that. There isn’t any reason why that can’t be done.”

Johanns said that if the House won’t act on the bill, perhaps there is another route that can be pursued.

“One way of doing this would be to simply make sure through a separate piece of legislation or amendment, something of that nature, make sure that those programs are funded so when people need that assistance, the funding is available,” Johanns said.

Johanns acknowledged the stalemate over the Farm Bill has put federal agriculture disaster aid in limbo.

“There are livestock programs that would help with the drought that were not funded for this year,” according to Johanns. “So, here we have this historic drought, we’re likely to have livestock losses, have had livestock losses already, and we’ve got to somehow figure out where that funding comes from.”

Nelson said Nebraskans are tough, but they could use some help.

“We’ll get through these fires and drought one way or another, but clearly it would certainly be a lot easier with those protections from the Farm Bill.”