Nelson calls on house to pass vital wildfire and drought relief provisions


July 25, 2012— Today, Nebraska’s Senator Ben Nelson said that with the worst drought in 70 years causing dangerous wildfires and growing hardship for Nebraska farmers and ranchers, the U.S. House should stop playing politics so Congress can pass the Farm Bill, which contains much-needed wildfire and drought assistance.
“The House’s reluctance to debate the Farm Bill until after the November election is irresponsible,” said Senator Nelson. “Right now, wildfires and a punishing drought are endangering Nebraska communities, turning crops into dust and forcing livestock producers to rapidly shrink their herds, and yet no relief from Congress is in sight thanks to Washington’s political games.
“I call on House leaders to stop dragging their feet and bring the Farm Bill to the floor for debate ASAP. The disaster relief programs in the 2008 Farm Bill have expired. The 2012 Farm Bill we’re working on will provide real help to Nebraskans hard-hit by this severe drought, help they’ll need to recover from this year’s wildfire damage, and widespread crop and livestock losses.
“Looking ahead, I promise to continue to monitor the drought and work to ensure our farmers and ranchers continue to receive the assistance they need. On my Senate website I have added numerous resources, information, emergency contacts and updates Nebraskans affected by the drought and others may find useful.”
Last week, lightning sparked a blaze that has grown into three major fires along the Niobrara River: the Fairfield, Wentworth, and Hall Creek fires, which have collectively burned over 60,000 acres in Nebraska. The fires have consumed over 10 homes and forced evacuations throughout the Niobrara River valley in Brown, Cherry, and Keya Paha Counties. While a mass effort to fight the fire is being coordinated by both Nebraska and federal officials, with firefighters from over 30 Nebraska fire departments involved, statewide drought conditions have resulted in the fires’ continued spread. Signs of the fires, such as smoke and horizon glow have been reported to be seen as much as 50 miles away.
“Though dedicated firefighters work hard to control and extinguish the fires raging throughout our state, significant parts of Nebraska have already been damaged,” said Nelson. “Nebraska grazing ranchers and ag producers were some of the first affected by the fires, losing livestock and feed.
“Despite this terrible situation, the House of Representatives hasn’t been willing to do the footwork required to pass a Farm Bill.”
Action has been suspended on the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill (the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012) passed by the U.S. Senate on June 21, 2012 contains measures establishing the funding and framework for wildfire prevention efforts, as well as recovery assistance measures for the effects of wildfires and droughts, including:

-       An authorization of direct and guaranteed loans for recovery from wildfires and drought.

-       Funding for the construction and rehabilitation of fire breaks, and other pre-suppression efforts.

-       Compensation for ag producers that have incurred livestock losses resulting from wildfires.

-       Aid with replacing livestock feed damaged or lost due to wildfires or drought.

-       The implementation of new grades of ag-product hazard insurance against natural disasters.

-       The establishment of a $5 million fund to assist with wildfire and/or drought-related losses.

-       A reduction of fire hazards through continued land management operations.

-       Coverage of livestock feed losses that occur due to drought-stricken grazing periods.

-       Assistance with ag product-related losses due to fire on publically-managed lands.

-       The initiation of a market-based disaster relief program designed to compliment crop insurance.

-       Assistance with livestock if wildfires prevent grazing on normally-permissible publicly-managed lands.

-       Partial compensations for livestock sold or disposed of due to drought conditions.

-       Monthly assistance payments to ag producers for owned or leased grazing land located in a county experiencing “severe, exceptional” and/or “extreme” drought.

-       Additional financial coverage if crops are prevented from being planted due to drought conditions.

“The Farm Bill has essential drought- and wildfire-related relief provisions within it. It gives Nebraskans a bit of breathing room against natural disasters that often strike without warning. At this time, many Nebraskans need that helping hand the Farm Bill offers,” said Nelson. “The House must deliver a Farm Bill so Congress can pass a final bill soon.
“Nebraskans need the Farm Bill’s wildfire and drought relief provisions as soon as possible.”

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