WASHINGTON - With the farm bill stalled in the House and Oregon farmers and ranchers hit hard by 2012's historic wildfires, Oregon Sens. Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden on Wednesday urged President Obama to include wildfire relief in any disaster aid package before the end of this year.
A supplemental disaster relief package is expected to move through Congress in December due to Superstorm Sandy.
In the letter sent Wednesday, the senators wrote that "opportunities to fund these programs this year are slipping away.
"While months have passed since the droughts and wildfires this summer, the impacts are still being felt by families across the country, and the need for assistance remains great. Now is the time to assemble a disaster relief package that will help American families regain their footing after having lost crops, livestock, homes, and lives."
News reports indicate that President Obama is preparing this week to send a detailed request to Congress for emergency disaster relief.
Key disaster relief programs at the USDA expired at the end of 2011, leaving farmers and ranchers who have lost livestock or grazing land with few options.
A reauthorization of those programs was included in the farm bill passed by the Senate in June, but the House has not passed a farm bill, preventing the bill from reaching the president's desk.
In July, Senator Merkley introduced a stand-alone bill extending programs that assist farmers and ranchers that were impacted by the historic wildfires and drought in 2012.
The full text of the letter follows below.
December 5th, 2012
President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to express the urgent need for additional funding for disaster relief programs. During the 2012 fire season, we saw historic levels of natural disasters across the country. Twenty six states and over one thousand counties were impacted by severe drought, which contributed to several western states experiencing the largest wildfires in decades. Additionally, severe storms destroyed billions of dollars in infrastructure and property along the East and Gulf Coasts.
As you consider your request to Congress for supplemental disaster funding to aid in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, we urge you to also include retroactive authorization and funding for the expired USDA programs that assist the farmers and ranchers impacted by the wildfires and drought that occurred this past year. Specifically, it is essential to retroactively fund the disaster relief programs included in the Senate-passed Farm Bill. We would also urge you to include supplemental funding for other important programs that are critical to recovery efforts from natural disasters, such as the Emergency Conservation Program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Undoubtedly, the best solution to assist our farmers and ranchers would be for Congress to pass a Farm Bill that includes funding for these disaster programs. However, because the House has not yet taken up the Senate Farm Bill or passed their own Farm Bill, opportunities to fund these programs this year are slipping away. While months have passed since the droughts and wildfires this summer, the impacts are still being felt by families across the country, and the need for assistance remains great.
Now is the time to assemble a disaster relief package that will help American families regain their footing after having lost crops, livestock, homes, and lives.