Drought aid stops at the White House door

Drought aid stops at the White House door
Producers across the state of South Dakota are suffering from the worst drought since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s.�Whole herds are being sold off, crops have failed and parts of South Dakota now resemble a desert instead of the Great Plains.

Simple fairness requires that our ag producers get treated the same as the victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.�Unfortunately, however, the Bush Administration doesn't seem to�agree, and continues to oppose real and immediate assistance.

Our congressional delegation pressed the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to open Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres for emergency haying and grazing over a month ago, including acres in counties contiguous to drought-stricken counties.��However, the USDA�refused our request, and denied access to acres in a 150-mile radius out from approved counties until after Aug. 1, apparently not realizing that there is little feed value in roughage so�late in the season.�

I also strongly support ag disaster legislation that would provide some needed�relief to producers in South Dakota.�Working with my colleagues, we were able to attach an agriculture disaster package that would include almost $100 million to producers in South Dakota to the most recent emergency supplemental spending bill.� If this drought doesn't qualify as "an emergency," I don't know what does.�However, President Bush threatened to veto the bill, which also contained money for our troops in Iraq and for Hurricane Katrina victims, if it contained even one nickel of agriculture disaster assistance money

This is outrageous and unfair, and yet the funding was consequently stripped out of the emergency spending bill, denying South Dakota producers relief.�But I am not giving up, and we have now attached the ag disaster assistance package to the most recent agriculture spending bill, and will continue to work for its passage.

Senator Thune and I will be jointly traveling in the state in early August to meet with producers and to discuss the extensive drought damage. This is not my first tour of the region, and I am sure it will not be the last before the drought is over.� But there are others that need to get out of Washington, DC to actually see the damage firsthand.

I invited USDA Secretary Mike Johanns to travel to South Dakota and see the damage first-hand, but have yet to receive a response. Incredibly, the secretary has claimed record farm profits as justification for opposing a comprehensive agriculture disaster assistance package for 2005, profits which have eluded many of our farmers and ranchers. And the truth is that the Administration has the authority to provide comprehensive drought assistance at the stroke of a pen, if it wants, just as it did in 2002.�

The White House has the opportunity to act.�I am calling on the President to take the steps necessary to help our producers. In fact, while I will continue to push as hard as I can for drought assistance, I encourage all South Dakotans to contact the President of the United States.

I am circulating�petitions in our state, to be mailed to the President, expressing support for meaningful agriculture relief (a copy of which can be downloaded from my Senate Web site at http://johnson.senate.gov). I am hopeful that folks will circulate and send these petitions in to President Bush, as it's critical that he and his Administration realize how very serious and urgent this situation is.

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