Senator John ThuneOver the past few years, drought conditions and other natural disasters have financially strained tens of thousands of agriculture producers across South Dakota and the country. In May, Congress responded to the needs of America's producers by enacting emergency disaster assistance for our farm and ranch families.
Congress clearly intended the disaster programs passed by Congress last May to be available to crop and livestock producers who suffered devastating losses due to natural disasters in 2005 and 2006. The assistance provided by Congress includes payments for livestock death losses under the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) and compensation for grazing and other losses under the Livestock Compensation Program (LCP).
Last month I was informed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that its attorneys were interpreting a section of the Ag disaster bill in a way that would eliminate 90 percent of South Dakota's livestock and forage producers from the disaster assistance Congress intended for them to receive.
Because USDA was unable to administratively remedy this serious problem, I introduced legislation to fix it (S. 1716). After my colleagues recognized the urgency of the problem to livestock producers across the country, Senate leadership agreed to fast track my legislation through the Senate.
A few days later, the House passed my bill which makes the necessary change to the emergency disaster legislation passed by the Congress last May.
Forage and livestock producers in South Dakota and across the United States desperately need this disaster assistance. Their payment eligibility should not hinge on how a Washington, D.C. bureaucrat interprets the law. Obviously, the entire U.S. Senate and House of Representatives agreed with me by unanimously passing my bill.
This legislation is now on its way to the President's desk to be signed into law and will allow the USDA to include all eligible producers when it issues disaster payments this fall. This legislation will ensure that thousands of livestock producers across the country will receive the disaster benefits that Congress promised them.
USDA plans to issue disaster payments to agriculture and livestock producers this fall. Without my legislative fix, livestock producers would be ineligible to receive most of the $1.3 billion included in the disaster package that Congress envisioned for livestock losses.
I am happy to see that it's possible for people in government to work together quickly to fix the mistakes we sometimes make. When issues arise that are as serious as protecting our agricultural producers, it's important to act quickly and ensure that we do the job right.