Help may be on the way

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 25, 2003

Pike County, which was declared a federal disaster area in the fall due to the draught, may be in line for some federal money, pending the results of a Congressional debate in Washington, D.C.

The Senate has approved a $3.1 billion farm package that targets growers living in counties declared disaster areas over the past two years. Pike County is one such county and farmers could be eligible to receive tax payer money if the House endorses the Senate bill and it is signed into law by President George Bush.

Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., rewrote the bill to exclude those who didn't lose livestock and crops to drought or excessive rain.

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Cochran, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the new version means farmers could receive expedited payments because "counties that have been declared disaster counties are already a matter of record."

The amendment was approved Wednesday night on a 59-35 vote.

Still, some Democrats said the plan is remains too broad.

"This means that a farmer who happens to live in a county that has been designated a disaster area, but who has not suffered any losses, is eligible for thousands of dollars worth of aid," said Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D.

Ann Veneman, head of the Department of Agriculture, declared 2,021 counties in 46 states as primary disaster areas last year and 862 counties in 32 states in 2001. Among the counties designated in the fall were all of the drought-stricken counties in Alabama except for Baldwin County.

The GOP amendment allows major crop growers eligible to receive subsidies to receive 42 percent of their direct payment to help them recover from losses.

However, those applying for aid would have to purchase federal crop insurance to guard against disaster. If they failed to do so, they would have to pay back the money.

"The Administration has remained committed to providing relief to producers who have faced extremely difficult times," said Veneman in a press release. "We have worked to make every available tool available within our current authorities. This has included declaring disaster emergencies in an expeditious manner, making low-interest loans available to producers; working hard to ensure more than $4.4 billion in crop insurance is available to help cover losses; extended haying and grazing to provide feed for livestock and developing a livestock compensation program that provided nearly $1 billion in immediate assistance to producers most impacted by drought conditions."

Stephen Stetson can be reached at stephen.stetson