House Ag approves WHIP+ bill
The House Agriculture Committee on Tuesday passed H.R. 267, the 2020 Wildlife and Hurricane Indemnity Programs Plus (WHIP+) Reauthorization Act and the On-Farm Storage Loss Program for 2020 and 2021.
The bipartisan vote was unanimous by voice.
The bill would provide stronger disaster assistance to a wide range of producers than under current programs. The bill authorizes $8.5 billion in appropriations, but the money would have to be provided by appropriators, presumably in a supplemental appropriations bill.
During the markup, several members noted that federal disaster benefits often get to needy farmers and ranchers very late.
“I am very proud of the bipartisan work on this disaster bill today by both Democrats and Republicans, working together for our great nation. As we know, severe and unforeseen weather events wreaked havoc on crops and livestock throughout 2020 and continue now during the 2021 growing season,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga.
“From extreme fires to historic drought, our district and our nation have seen devastating disasters this year and last year. The federal government must provide every tool and resource possible as we rebuild. That includes supporting family farmers and producers who had their crops ruined by smoke damage in the 2020 fires in our district,” said Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., who introduced the bill and whose district continues to recover from the LNU Lightning Complex and Glass Fires of 2020. “Earlier this year, I introduced the WHIP+ Reauthorization Act to ensure we reactivate the critical Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus to help agricultural producers in our district. Today, I’m glad to see my bipartisan bill approved by the Agriculture Committee, and I’ll work to ensure it’s considered on the House floor as soon as possible.”
Several farm groups praised the committee action but noted more effort will be needed to get Congress to approve it.
USA Rice said, “The bill is favorable to rice farmers who have experienced losses due to natural disasters, which USA Rice advocated for, to include hurricanes, drought, flooding, and other blows dealt by Mother Nature.” But the rice group added, “It’s important to note that any forthcoming disaster assistance will likely have a long road ahead as Congress continues to negotiate these provisions. The version of the bill passed today also only authorizes funding, so funding will have to be appropriated by Congress in order to carry out this program.”
National Farmers Union President Rob Larew said, “Our disaster assistance programs will need to keep up with the growing pressures our members are facing. Today, the House Agriculture Committee made the right move by advancing this bill to help ensure that we have access to the support we need in a timely manner. Given the urgency of the matter, the House and Senate should act quickly to pass this measure.”
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said, “AFBF is grateful to have the House Agriculture Committee mark up a bill that addresses our concerns. Having the assurance that smoke taint in wine grapes due to wildfires; high winds, derechos, excessive heat and freeze are all covered is very important to our members who had to deal with these disasters over the past two crop years. We support efforts to reauthorize the WHIP+ Milk Loss Program and the On-Farm Storage Loss Program for 2020 and 2021.
“We also encourage efforts to expand the drought trigger from D3 on the drought monitor to a secretarial drought designation, meaning D2 for eight consecutive weeks. Thank you again for working so diligently on this issue, making sure all voices were heard. As AFBF begins our internal Farm Bill Working Group in preparation for the 2023 farm bill, we look forward to working with the committee and Congress on longer term solutions for disaster assistance, while also ensuring producers continue to have access to robust crop insurance products,” Duvall concluded.
National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern noted that dairy farmers had been hit by numerous natural disasters in recent years, including Hurricane Irma, which imposed significant difficulties for Florida dairy producers in 2017, and the extreme cold that wrought major damages upon Texas farmers this year. NMPF, he said, “is grateful that the ANS being considered by the House Agriculture Committee reauthorizes for calendar years 2020 and 2021 the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity and Milk Loss (WHIP-ML) Program, which provides indemnity support to dairy producers for milk that was dumped or otherwise removed from commercial channels due to weather-related natural disasters including hurricanes, floods, and snowstorms. We commend the inclusion of provisions to offer coverage options beyond the scope of the original program, such as derecho storms, deep freezes, power outages, and excessive heat. Finally, we are pleased that the ANS allows dairy cooperatives to receive and then distribute payments to their producer-owners if so desired.”
National Sorghum Producers Chairman Kody Carson, a sorghum farmer from Olton, Texas, said, “Sorghum producers had a challenging 2020 dealing with severe drought on the High Plains that crept into 2021. Currently, in a disaster that is still developing, farmers in South Texas and the Gulf Coast are struggling to get their crop out and salvage its value given torrential rains. The extension of WHIP+ into 2020 and 2021 improves upon the existing program and will offer much needed assistance during a particularly challenging, high-cost and high-stakes time for agriculture.”
National Cotton Council Chairman Kent Fountain and American Cotton Producers Chairman Mark McKean said that cotton producers across the U.S. cotton belt faced various severe weather events in 2020, ranging from drought in the Southwest and West to hurricanes and flooding in the Mid-South and Southeast, and are facing weather challenges this year, too.
“We applaud your actions to begin work on a disaster assistance package for both 2020 and 2021 in order to help deliver the much-needed relief to farmers and ranchers across the nation,” Fountain and McKean wrote to the committee. “Specifically, the modifications and enhancements being considered for WHIP+ will be of significant benefit to many cotton producers, such as expanding the cause of loss to include excessive heat and drought coverage to counties with a secretarial designation, along with contiguous counties. We are also very supportive of the administrative changes being made such as use of net indemnities for the payment calculation, clarification that a subsequent planted crop is eligible if insured, treatment of unharvested acres, and streamlining the application process.”
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