Disaster relief gets nod from Congress


WASHINGTON – Farm disaster aid moves to the president’s desk, approved unanimously by the House Oct. 6 and the Senate Oct. 11 as part of a larger Military Construction Appropriations bill.
The U.S. House of Representatives recessed last Saturday until after the Nov. 2 elections, but the Senate had to stay after school, even working Sunday to move ahead on unfinished bills.
Conservation tug-of-war. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, stalled the $2.9 billion aid measure, attached to the $10 billion homeland security spending bill.
Harkin fought to protect conservation funds in the 2002 farm bill from being used for the disaster aid.
“Up to this date, agricultural disaster assistance has been treated as emergency spending and not come out of the pockets of America’s farmers and ranchers,” Harkin said. “Reopening the farm bill sets a dangerous precedent.”
The final conference version, however, requires the assistance to be offset by cuts in the current farm bill, specifically capping the Conservation Security Program.
The offset, claims the House Agriculture Committee, “in no way” threatens the existence of the Conservation Security Program.
Currently, $9 billion is allocated to the program. The disaster relief bill caps the conservation program funding at $6 billion to offset the spending.
“The reality of the situation is that there will be no disaster money before we go home unless we provide budget offsets,” said House Ag Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va.
What’s available. The assistance includes funding for the Crop Disaster Program and the Livestock Assistance Program.
A Crop Disaster Program gives payments to producers whose losses exceed 35 percent of historic yields, and the Livestock Assistance Program provides direct payments to livestock producers who suffered grazing losses due to natural disaster.
To be eligible for the Livestock Assistance Program , a producer must be in a county that has a secretarial or presidential disaster designation.
The assistance applies to producers who have eligible losses in 2003 or 2004.
Tax relief, ethanol boost. In other legislation, a the “American Jobs Creation Act of 2004,” or corporate tax relief bill, passed the House and Senate.
The Senate passed the conference report Oct. 11 with a 69-17 vote; the House voted 280-141 for the bill Oct. 7.
The measure would redefine a manufacturing sector to include farming operations. The $76.5 billion proposal offers tax relief and includes a tobacco buyout plan.
The tobacco buyout plan will end a 65-year-old federal tobacco price support program and pay growers and quota holders.
The conference bill would also extend ethanol subsidies through 2010 and redirect funds generated by an excise tax on ethanol to the highway trust fund.
The bill also allows small farmer-owned, ethanol-producing cooperatives to use the existing tax credit for plants that produce less than 30 million gallons per year.
The bill also creates new biodiesel tax subsidies. A tax credit of $1 per gallon for agri-biodiesel and 50 cents per gallon for biodiesel (recycled oil) is offered through 2006.
The bill now heads to the president, who is expected to sign the measure.


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