Drought relief bill signed

U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge (D-Lillington) today announced that a bill to provide disaster relief to North Carolina and other Southeastern farmers affected by the current record drought was signed into law on December 26.

Etheridge, a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, led the effort in Congress to provide direct assistance to farmers.

“Our farmers are some of the most productive and ingenius people around, but there is not much they can do without one of life’s essentials, water,” said Etheridge. “As farmers make their planting decisions for 2008, this assistance will allow them to look to the future with more certainty and a measure of hope.”

The funding is included in an omnibus spending bill that funds several government agencies and provides emergency spending. The bill amends a provision included in the emergency supplemental appropriations bill signed by the President in May that provides $3 billion in agriculture assistance for declared disasters in 2005, 2006 and 2007, but set a deadline of February 28, 2007, excluding farmers affected by the drought from being covered. Today’s legislation extends the deadline to December 31, 2007, allowing farmers affected by the drought to be eligible for direct disaster assistance.

The funds are mandatory, meaning that there will be as much money as is needed for all eligible farmers to receive assistance. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the total will be about $600 million.

Etheridge has been working to ensure inclusion of the funding in the bill with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey and Agriculture Committee Chairman Colin Peterson. In October the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on the drought’s effects on farmers at Etheridge’s request and N.C. Governor Mike Easley testified.

On September 14, the U.S. Department of Agriculture designated 85 counties in North Carolina as primary disaster areas, including all counties in the Second Congressional District. The designation allows farmers in the affected counties to be eligible for low-interest emergency loans from U.S.D.A. Farm Service Agencies. Today’s bill provides direct payments.