Wyden, Merkley, DeFazio, Bonamici Call for Expanded Agricultural Assistance to Oregon & Washington Farmers

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and U.S. Reps. Peter DeFazio and Suzanne Bonamici today called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to take all statutory eligibilities into account when distributing the $10 billion in aid to agricultural producers hit hard by extreme heat, drought, and wildfires this summer.

The letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack from the Oregon lawmakers as well as 12 of their colleagues from Washington noted that $10 billion in agricultural aid was included in legislation that passed and became law in September.

“Congress provided $10 billion to cover qualifying losses experienced by agricultural producers as part of H.R.5305, the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act. As the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) works to swiftly implement the program, we write to urge you to utilize the full eligibilities provided in the statute to assist producers in our states hit hard by extreme heat, drought, wildfires, smoke exposure, and related crop quality losses,” the lawmakers wrote. “Additionally, we request that USDA offer guidance as soon as practicable on what types of documentation will be needed for farmers so that they can be ready and able to access this assistance.”

In July of this year, Wyden, Merkley, DeFazio, Bonamici and many of the lawmakers writing today to Secretary Vilsack had urged the USDA to open relief programs up to more producers that have lost crops and livestock to the droughts, extreme heat, and wildfires across the Pacific Northwest this summer. As part of the agricultural assistance included in the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act, the lawmakers were able to secure that increased flexibility on who is eligible for the relief funds, so that agricultural producers who suffered heat-related crop, livestock, or shellfish losses and were not previously eligible could receive relief funds.

“A number of us wrote to you in July regarding the extreme heat, drought, low soil moisture, and wildfires the Pacific Northwest experienced this summer, with temperatures reaching as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. As we mentioned then, many of the producers who suffered some of the greatest heat-related losses—scorched fruit, damaged canes, increased shellfish mortality—were either located in counties not covered by the drought designations, experienced losses not covered by drought assistance programs, or both,” the lawmakers continued. “To better address the extent of these losses, Congress provided new flexibilities in H.R.5305 to amend the previous Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program-Plus (WHIP+) authorization, including coverage for losses related to excessive heat and smoke exposure for wine grapes—and inclusive of crop quality loss and damage to on-farm stored commodities.

In addition to Wyden, Merkley, DeFazio and Bonamici, others signing the bipartisan letter led by U.S. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Kim Schrier (D-WA), and Dan Newhouse (R-WA) include U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA), U.S. Reps. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Marilyn Strickland (D-WA), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Adam Smith (D-WA), Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), Jaime Herrera Butler (R-WA) and Rick Larsen (D-WA).

The entire letter is here.

A web version of this release is here.