Governor Warner Seeks Federal Disaster Declarations for 14 Additional Virginia Localities Hurt by Drought
— Letter to President Bush seeks support on
emergency assistance to agriculture producers —
RICHMOND — Governor Mark R. Warner today asked U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Ann M. Veneman to designate 14 additional Virginia localities as federal disaster areas. The Governor has also written to President Bush, asking him to support an amendment to the Interior appropriations bill before Congress that would provide emergency disaster assistance to agriculture producers in Virginia and across the country.
“Virginia farmers have suffered significant losses from this prolonged and extreme drought,” Governor Warner said. “We will keep asking for federal assistance to support our agriculture community.”
Federal disaster designation makes farmers eligible for low-interest loans and any supplemental relief that may be provided by Congress. The localities in today’s request to Secretary Veneman include Bedford, Bland, Floyd, Franklin, Henry, King and Queen, King William, Middlesex, Montgomery, Richmond, Spotsylvania, Stafford, Surry and Wythe counties.
Agriculture losses in Virginia currently total an estimated $120 million and could reach as much as $200 million by the end of the fall.
In an overwhelming bipartisan vote September 10, the U.S. Senate approved the agriculture disaster assistance amendment to the Fiscal Year 2003 Department of Interior appropriations bill. Both of Virginia’s U.S. Senators supported the amendment, which was passed on a 79 to 16 vote.
The legislation would provide up to $6 billion nationwide in emergency funding to partially offset agriculture production losses and increased feed costs as a result of natural disasters, which include drought. Assistance would be available to all eligible crop and livestock producers, including specialty crop producers, in counties designated as disaster areas by the administration for both 2001 and 2002.
Supporters of the amendment want President Bush to endorse the emergency funding measure without insisting that the money come from an already existing appropriation in the Farm Bill. The Bush administration has suggested the funding come from the Farm Bill, a move opposed by the American Farm Bureau and Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. Because the Interior appropriations bill has already passed the U.S. House of Representatives, the amendment may have to go to a conference committee before final passage. Action is expected before Congress concludes its work in October.
“Disaster assistance, beyond the usual low-interest loans, must be provided to our farmers and ranchers in order to preserve the livelihood and the way of life of those who have suffered staggering losses due to the prolonged drought,” Governor Warner wrote in a September 16 letter to President Bush. “Providing emergency aid is critical now, before it is too late, for Virginia’s farmers and for farmers across this nation.”
More than 50 percent of the United States is classified as being in some level of drought, and most of Virginia remains under extreme drought conditions. As of today, 10 Virginia localities have been designated primary disaster areas by the Secretary of Agriculture. Thirty-eight localities have been designated contiguous disaster areas; in addition to the 14 localities included in today’s letter, 26 disaster declaration requests, made on September 10 and August 6, are awaiting responses.