House to Vote on Disaster Aid

After Failed Attempts During Recess, House Schedules Vote on Disaster Package

A disaster package that has been tied up in the House of Representatives will get another vote as flooding persists across a wide swath of the Midwest and Southern states. Part of the disaster aid would pay farmers for grain bin losses. (DTN file photo by Chris Clayton)

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Congress returns Monday amidst some of the greatest uncertainty for agriculture in decades, with corn and soybean planting behind schedule, commodity prices low, and trade conflicts with China and Mexico worse than before the Memorial Day congressional recess.

The House is scheduled to vote early Monday evening on a $19.1 billion supplemental appropriations bill that includes aid to farmers and ranchers who experienced hurricanes and wildfires in 2018 and flooding this year.

The vote comes as the Missouri River again is rising because of continual rain throughout the basin. The Arkansas River is also inundating farm ground in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and locks and dams on the Mississippi River remain shut down as the Corps of Engineers looks for ways to relieve pressure on the system.

The Senate passed the disaster bill before leaving for the recess. The House attempted to pass the bill by unanimous consent, but objections from three Republican House members stopped those efforts.

The bill -- technically the Senate Amendment to H.R. 2157 sponsored by House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. -- is listed on the suspension calendar and expected to pass easily. President Donald Trump is expected to sign it, although he left on a trip to the United Kingdom and France on Sunday evening.

The bill specifically includes just over $3 billion to pay for farmer losses from disasters that occurred in 2018 and 2019. That is expected to cover Midwest farmers who lost stored grain this spring during flooding along the Missouri River basin.

The disaster legislation also waives adjusted gross income caps for farmers under the Market Facilitation Program, a move that opens up trade aid to a larger group of higher-income farmers. The provision will become more important to those producers now that the Trump administration is planning a second year of Market Facilitation Program payments.

Disaster aid may help farmers recover from past losses, but USDA continues to show historic delays in corn and soybean plantings across farm country. Because of that, the Food and Environment Reporting Network reported Monday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue hopes to have a "definite answer" by the end of this week whether MFP payments will be offered to farmers on prevented planting acres. FERN reported Perdue declined to offer other details of the new MFP payment rules.

Under the disaster bill, several other USDA programs get specific funding to help farmers, ranchers and forests recover from disasters. The Emergency Conservation Program receives $558 million and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program receives $435 million.

The bill also provided $600 million more supplemental disaster nutrition aid for Puerto Rico.

For communities affected by disasters, the bill includes $600 million for the Economic Development Administration to provide development grants.

For the Army Corps of Engineers, the bill includes under multiple accounts just under $2.5 billion total for various flood and hurricane controls, including repairs and emergency operations, as well as maintenance and natural disaster repairs.

The bill also includes language requiring USDA to create a crop insurance program for hemp, starting in the 2020 crop year. Congress removed hemp as a controlled substance under the 2018 farm bill, and now as many as 45 states have some form of legislation to allow for hemp production.

While high levels of precipitation are the primary factor in delayed planting, Farm Bureau also said farmers may take into account the Trump administration's announcement that it will distribute another round of MFP due to the continuing trade conflict with China.

"While USDA has not announced the rates, many farmers who may have otherwise taken the prevented planting option may look to plant something in order to participate in the MFP program as the original announcement stated that payments would only be paid on planted acres," Farm Bureau said.

Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at jhagstrom@njdc.com

Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport

Chris Clayton can be reached at chris.clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

(AG/CZ)