Congress works to pass emergency farm appropriation

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While there’s been a lot attention about a state program to help Vermont’s dairy farmers, a proposal being considered in Congress could provide far greater short term financial benefits for many farmers.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Vermont’s congressional delegation is working with members from other farm states to pass a 4 billion dollar emergency appropriation that would make special grants available to farmers.

The grants would help offset a loss of farm income because of crop damage due to the wet weather, higher energy prices, and very low milk prices.

Senator Patrick Leahy says efforts earlier this month to pass the bill were unsuccessful because President Bush threatened to veto the legislation because of concerns about its impact on the federal budget deficit.

Leahy says the plan now is to attach the measure to a budget bill that needs to pass Congress in the next few weeks. He says the scope of the federal bill is much larger than the proposal being considered in Vermont:

(Leahy) “We’ve been hit terribly not only in Vermont but throughout the northeast because of the continuing rain, flooding. Crops have been lost. And both republicans and democrats are urging the President not to stop this one, not to veto this one. We’ll keep the bipartisan support in the Congress and if the White House will cooperate this could mean tens of millions of dollars in direct payments to Vermont farmers.”

(Kinzel) The president has given his approval to legislation designating the entire state as a federal disaster area. This means many farmers will be eligible to apply for low interest loans.

Leahy says farmers need grants not more loans.

(Leahy) “We have a lot of farmers who are doing their best to pay for the loans they already have in Vermont. They don’t need new loans. They’ve been hit with a disaster. They need grants.”

(Kinzel) Governor Jim Douglas says he strongly supports the new federal bill and he says he’s letting the White House know how important the grant program is to farmers across the state.

(Douglas) “Congress does need to do something about the deficit our country is facing. But they also have to step up to the plate when there’s an emergency, when’s there’s a perfect storm of bad weather, high fuel prices and low milk prices that are impacting our dairy farmers so significantly. The government has to establish priorities, it always does. And one priority in my view has to be helping out in this emergency.”

(Kinzel) Congress is expected to take up this issue when it returns from its Fourth of July recess.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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