Trump signs disaster aid bill that covers prevented planting

President Donald Trump shows off the supplemental appropriations bill he signed today that includes disaster aid for farmers.
Photo courtesy White House

President Donald Trump today signed the long delayed supplemental appropriations bill that includes disaster aid for farmers who experienced hurricanes and wildfires in 2018 and flooding in 2019.

H.R. 2157, the Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019, “includes $4.5 billion to the Department of Agriculture for agricultural-related losses, emergency timber restoration, farmland repair, and watershed recovery work to help our great American farmers and ranchers,” the White House noted in an announcement.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., pointed out in a news release that, despite Trump’s initial opposition, the bill “will finally provide much needed relief to the American citizens of Puerto Rico by providing $1.2 billion in new funding to help the island rebuild stronger than it was before.”

“And it unlocks billions of dollars Congress has previously appropriated for Puerto Rico and other communities across the country that the Trump administration has needlessly withheld, locked in the Treasury in Washington, by the president’s order,” Leahy said.

The bill also includes a provision that would allow payments to farmers for prevented planting, a spokesperson for Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Hoeven, R-N.D., confirmed today.

The confirmation occurred as Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said USDA lawyers are still trying to figure out if the Market Facilitation Program payments could be made to farmers who could not plant this year.

But that program is supposed to compensate farmers who have lost markets due to trade retaliation, and Hoeven told Agri-Pulse that USDA lawyers have said MFP cannot be used to compensate for unplanted acres.

“Prevented plant is listed as an eligible criterion under the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program (WHIP) and was added to the Disaster Supplemental after the 2019 floods occurred in the Midwest,” a Hoeven spokesman said. “USDA will put together the implementation plan for the program and determine how it will work with the existing RMA prevented planting provisions.”

The bill provision says, “For an additional amount for the ‘Office of the Secretary,’ $3,005,442,000, which shall remain available until Dec. 31, 2020, for necessary expenses related to losses of crops (including milk, on-farm stored commodities, crops prevented from planting in 2019, and harvested adulterated wine grapes), trees, bushes, and vines, as a consequence of Hurricanes Michael and Florence, other hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, snowstorms, and wildfires occurring in calendar years 2018 and 2019 under such terms and conditions as determined by the secretary.”

Perdue told reporters Wednesday in Newburg, Md., “I believe people deserve an answer sooner rather than later, so we hope to have that within a few days for people,” according to a USDA transcript of his remarks cited by the Food & Environment Reporting Network.

Asked if an announcement would be made by Friday, Perdue replied, “Possibly … I was planning on doing it this Friday but it could be next week.”

Trump is scheduled to be in Iowa on Tuesday, he noted.

Meanwhile, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the National Farmers Union have issued statements on what farmers can expect from the disaster bill.

“Most of the agriculture-related funding — slightly more than $3 billion — is for farm disaster assistance related to hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, typhoons, volcanic activity, snowstorms and wildfires. Other funding is allocated for nutrition, conservation, forestry and watershed assistance programs,” according to Farm Bureau’s Market Intel service. (See link.)

Farmers Union noted that “a significant portion — just over $3 billion” of the $19.1 billion package — will be directed through USDA to cover crop loss, including the loss of on-farm stored commodities and crops that could not be planted due to environmental disasters. Another $558 million will go to the Emergency Conservation Program, which helps farmers and ranchers repair damage to farmlands and put in place methods for water conservation during severe drought.”

The bill also allocates money to help rural communities rebuild and prepare for future weather events. $435 million is designated for the Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations Program, which helps protect and restore watersheds, Farmers Union noted.

“Though this isn’t specifically for agricultural purposes, it covers a number of agricultural activities, including improving water quality and controlling soil erosion. Additionally, the Rural Community Facilities Program will receive $150 million to provide healthcare, education, public safety, and public services to rural communities, all of which may have been altered by extreme weather events,” Farmers Union said.

Trump tweeted a photo of himself after he signed bill in Ireland, saying “Just signed Disaster Aid Bill to help Americans who have been hit by recent catastrophic storms. So important for our GREAT American farmers and ranchers. Help for GA, FL, IA, NE, NC, and CA. Puerto Rico should love President Trump. Without me, they would have been shut out!”