By a vote of 223-197, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a disaster relief package intended to aid some of the nation’s livestock producers who are coping with the nation’s worst drought in 50 years. The bill, which allows payments of up to $100,000 per farm, will help cattle and sheep ranchers but not hog, poultry or dairy producers, according to Reuters.
The aid package will also need to be approved by the Senate but it was uncertain if that body would vote on the measure before Congress breaks Friday for its month-long summer vacation.
In addition to crop farmers, the livestock industry has borne the brunt of the drought as the U.S. corn crop and pastures have withered from the unrelenting heat threatening the livelihoods of U.S. beef, pork and poultry producers.
The aid package, consisting of a reported $383 million, comes as a last-minute effort after House members delayed voting on the 2012 Farm Bill and even refused to consider a one-year extension of the current farm bill set to expire Sept. 30.
The House bill would restore relief funding to cattle and sheep producers as well as tree farmers, from a similar package that expired in 2011.
Meanwhile, the 2012 Farm Bill remains in limbo as Washington lawmakers quarrel over farm subsidies and also supplemental nutrition assistance, or food stamps, which makes up about 75 percent of the cost of the five-year farm bill.
The Senate might reject the stand-alone disaster package and insist on their five-year farm bill, which includes disaster aid for this year without the cuts demanded by the House, or let the bill wait until it returns on Sept 10.
"It's better than nothing. It's not what we should be doing," said Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Ranking Member on the House Agriculture Committee. He predicted the bill would stall in the Senate.
If enacted, it could be nearly half a year before producers see aid. The House bill allows three months for the USDA to write rules for disaster aid before it accepts claims for aid and calculates a payment.
Under the bill, USDA would pay 75 percent of the value of livestock killed by drought and 60 percent of feed costs for one to three months for stock on the range, depending on severity of drought in a locality, according to Reuters. There was also $20 million for feed and water shortages for livestock producers, bee keepers and fish farmers.
USDA will make its first estimate of the fall harvest next week. One forecaster pegged the corn crop at 11 billion bushels, or 11 percent smaller than last year. It would be the third year that corn output has declined and mean extraordinarily tight supplies.