MARY CLARE JALONICK Associated Press Writer WASHINGTON
Congress has sent $3 billion in agriculture disaster relief to the president’s desk, a victory for farmers and ranchers who have been struggling in the aftermath of flooding and drought. The money was hard-won. Farm-state lawmakers from Midwestern and Western states have been pushing for billions in aid for over two years, a tough request in the tight fiscal environment. In the end, their winning strategy was to include the money to in a must-pass war spending bill. “It’s a huge day,” said North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, the Democrat who authored the original bill. The legislation would compensate farmers who have sustained at least a 35 percent loss in either 2005, 2006 or before March 2007. Recipients must pick a year for which they want to be paid. Farmers in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and several Midwestern states have been suffering from weatherrelated losses, including a drought that has hit many areas hard over the past few years. President Bush has long opposed the assistance, saying it is unnecessary and expensive. But he is expected to accept the money as part of a compromise war spending bill that will provide money needed for troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Supporters of the farm disaster aid have said it belongs in the Iraq bill because it is designated for emergency spending, and many farmers are in danger of losing their livelihoods. “This bill sends a very important message: Help is on the way,” said Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D. “We have farmers in the field with the most expensive fuel costs to ever be encountered in spring planting, and in addition, you have the borrowing costs of carrying over all the debt from previous years.” South Dakota Sen. Tim Johnson also praised the legislation in a statement. Johnson is recovering from a brain hemorrhage he suffered in December but is working from home. “Persistence has paid off on disaster assistance,” he said. The final amount was less than previous versions of the legislation. North Dakota’s other Democratic senator, Byron Dorgan, added $4.9 billion to a previous version of the bill that was eventually shelved. “No one is going to be made whole by this,” Dorgan said. “But it’s still going to have sufficient funds to be very helpful ... It’s going to give them some hope.” Dorgan said he expects it to be “some months” before the USDA distributes the money. Farmers will apply for the funds at their local Farm Service Agency offices. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., also praised the legislation. “These critical disaster assistance funds have been delayed for too long,” he said.