Obama orders $30M more in farm drought aid

Aug. 8, 2012 at 4:00 AM
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WASHINGTON, Aug. 8 (UPI) -- President Barack Obama said he ordered an additional $30 million to help crop and livestock farmers crippled by a "devastating" and "historic drought."

The U.S. Agriculture Department money, which has already been allocated and does not require congressional approval, is intended "to get more water to livestock and restore land impacted by drought," Obama told reporters before a White House Rural Council meeting on the government's drought response.

The council, composed of Cabinet-level and other officials from across the government, seeks to promote rural economic prosperity.

"We are seeing devastating drought throughout the country," Obama said Tuesday afternoon. "It is a historic drought, and it's having a profound impact on farmers and ranchers all across many states."

The administration has "already designated over 1,500 counties across 32 states as disaster areas, which gives qualified farmers access to low-interest emergency loans," Obama said.

"We've also opened up more land for haying and grazing," he said. "And we've worked with crop insurance companies to give farmers a short grace period on unpaid insurance premiums, since some families will be struggling to make ends meet at the end of this crop year.

"This has been an all-hands-on-deck response," he said, thanking Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for his leadership.

Obama pointed to additional administration steps to help people and businesses hurt by the drought. These included a Transportation Department program to help commercial truck drivers transport supplies to farmers and ranchers and Small Business Administration program for low-interest emergency loans.

"But obviously, we've got a lot more to do, because a lot of folks are being affected by this," he said.

"When there's a disaster like this, everybody needs to pull together."

Obama repeated his call for Congress to pass a five-year, $500 billion farm bill.

Passing the bill would "not only provide important disaster relief tools, but also make necessary reforms and give farmers the certainty that they deserve," he said.

Kevin Smith, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the Republican-controlled House passed a bill to aid livestock producers, but the Democratic-controlled Senate did not act on it.

"A bipartisan House majority took responsible action to help farmers and ranchers suffering from this drought," Smith said. "It's unfortunate that Senate Democrats have blocked this relief package from getting to those in need."

House Republicans Thursday passed a short-term $383 million package of loans and grants for some drought-stricken livestock producers and farmers.

But Democratic leaders in the Senate, which passed the five-year agricultural policy omnibus farm bill June 21, said they wouldn't rush through the House measure simply because they were getting ready to begin their five-week summer recess.

"I'm not passing a bill that only covers some producers," Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said Thursday.

The end result was that Congress took no action to provide drought aid before breaking for the summer.

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