In mid-September, the LSU AgCenter estimated the flood damage experienced in Louisiana had reached some $350 million. Only two weeks later, that estimate has risen “north of $400 million,” says Louisiana Rep. Ralph Abraham.
With Congress out of session until after November elections where does federal disaster relief funding stand?
“The Senate finally agreed on a continuing resolution (CR),” said Abraham on Monday (October 3). “They had to get funding to address zika and military construction in that.
“The House got the CR about midday on Wednesday (September 28) and we passed it about 9 p.m. So, the CR is done through December 8. That means once we’re back in session after Thanksgiving we’ll have to pick (the budget) back up.
“By then, of course, we’ll have new members of Congress and new President. He or she will determine how we go forward with the budget process. We know whoever wins the presidency will have different priorities so that’ll affect the way we address it.”
IT’S FREE! Stay informed on what’s happening in Mid-South agriculture: Subscribe to Delta Farm Press Daily.
In the current CR, $500 million was appropriated for disaster relief. But those funds, warns Abraham, are likely to be split among a number of states and may not reach farmers.
“I believe 16 states asked for a part of that $500 million. Texas and Alabama are asking for a portion of the current CR. Whether they get that, or not, is basically up to President Obama. But President Obama, the Louisiana delegation and our governor believe we’ll get the lion’s share up to $400 million.”
That $400 million will probably be provided in the form of community development block grants. “It’ll be up to the governor to distribute once it arrives from the federal government.
“Whether the agricultural sector will get some of that early money, I don’t know. I’m a little skeptical at this point. I’m afraid we’ll have to wait until we pass an omnibus bill or another CR after December 8 to get the funds agriculture needs.”
And the need is only growing.
“$400 million worth of damage? Our farmers obviously need help. The young farmers are especially in poor shape and if they don’t get some help they won’t be in business next year.”
Leap of faith
With disaster relief uncertainty, the pressures of year-end planning and financing are also building for agricultural lenders.
“The lenders need to know something concrete, some money even if it’s just to show good faith. They want to continue lending to farmers and every business hit by the floods. They don’t want the property, the buildings back.
“I’m sure the lenders are looking for some hint that, come December or when we pass the omnibus, the money will be there.”
Promises have been made. “We’re told when we go back, that money will be in the omnibus. It’s somewhat a leap of faith. We’ve got to hold their feet to the fire and make sure they do what they’ve said.”
Do Abraham’s fellow lawmakers understand the plight of the farmers in this situation?
“They do. The Louisiana delegation has been educating them as to how horrific both the March and August floods were. Neither of those two floods got a lot of media coverage.
“But every time we’ve been able to hit the issue – both on the Senate and House sides – we’ve done so. We’ve told them how bad it has been and it seems they’re willing to provide funds. But until it’s done we won’t rest. This is a process that we won’t give up on.”