Ag News

Disaster assistance bill heads to president's desk

On June 3 the U.S. House of Representatives passed the long-awaited disaster assistance package for victims of natural disasters across the U.S. from 2017 to 2019.

H.R. 2157, the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019, passed by a 354-58 vote. All 14 Georgia representatives voted in favor of the bill, which includes funding to assist farmers in their recovery from Hurricane Michael, which struck Southwest Georgia on Oct. 10, 2018, leaving an estimated $2.5 billion of agricultural damage in Georgia.

According to UGA Extension estimates, the storm caused massive crop losses in Georgia to cotton, pecans, timber, vegetables, peanuts, dairy, nurseries, peanuts, poultry and soybeans.

The crop losses resulted in many farmers having difficulty paying off their 2018 operating loans, and had a ripple effect on businesses and communities supported by agriculture.

“We’re thankful the disaster assistance bill finally made it through Congress. Georgia’s farmers and rural communities devastated by Hurricane Michael last October desperately need help,” said Georgia Farm Bureau President Gerald Long. “Many farmers have delayed planting because of financial shortfalls and uncertainty resulting from the hurricane. We’re grateful to all of the members of Georgia’s Congressional delegation who worked tirelessly to get this bill to the finish line in a bipartisan effort to help our farmers and rural residents rebuild from a storm that did generational damage to Georgia agriculture.”

GFB is optimistic President Donald Trump will sign the bill soon so the USDA can begin work to get funds to farmers who need to pay off loans to close out the 2018 crop year.

The bill, which provides a total of $19.1 billion, includes $3 billion in emergency assistance funding for agricultural producers who suffered losses from 2018 natural disasters. The bill also includes funding for losses to peach and blueberry crops in 2017 due to extreme cold.

The final bill passed the Senate by an 85-8 vote on May 23. Three attempts in the House to pass it by unanimous consent were blocked by Republican representatives, delaying the final vote until June 3 when Congress returned from its Memorial Day recess.

Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-Ga. 2nd District), who chairs the House ag appropriations subcommittee, and Rep. Austin Scott (R-Ga. 8th District), a member of the House Agriculture Committee, led the push in the House to get the emergency assistance passed, while Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue carried the torch in the Senate. Each has expressed frustrations in recent months at the delays in passing a disaster assistance bill.