Disaster aid for farmers sought

US - Over $1.6 billion in U.S. funds urged for growers, workers hit by freeze, drought in state.
calendar icon 9 February 2007
clock icon 2 minute read

California lawmakers on Wednesday formally asked for more than $1.6 billion to help farmers and workers hurt by natural disasters including last month's freeze.

The package introduced on Capitol Hill offers an unusually generous array of grants, relief checks and more. The bill is still fluid, with further revisions certain.

"We've come together to make sure we can make California whole again," Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said.

Boxer and the San Joaquin Valley's bipartisan group of House members crafted the 16-page bill in recent weeks. They hope to attach it to emergency supplemental funding legislation, with the assistance of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.

In some important ways, they broke the mold used for standard farm disaster relief bills.

California farmers, for instance, could secure up to $125,000 in compensation for crop losses. Typically, Congress limits emergency payments to $80,000. The payment limit is one likely area for future negotiations with lawmakers from other states, though Californians insist more money is necessary.

"Just the cost of producing specialty crops in California tends to be higher," said California Department of Food and Agriculture Secretary A.G. Kawamura.

Kawamura met this week with White House officials, urging them to have President Bush declare the San Joaquin Valley a disaster area. Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns has already done so, freeing up low-interest loans. A presidential declaration would make additional unemployment and food assistance available.

"It should be forthcoming," Kawamura said of the presidential declaration, "but time is important."

Boxer leaped to the lead in writing the freeze relief bill, to the surprise of some House members. Feinstein, a detail-oriented legislator, has periodically cautioned San Joaquin Valley officials that there are limits to what Congress can do.

Source: Capitol Alert.com

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