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Newhouse Urges USDA to Expedite Disaster Assistance to Central Washington Farmers

October 20, 2021
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-WA), along with the entire Washington delegation, sent a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) urging them 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 $10 billion in agricultural aid was designated for Rep. Newhouse’s legislation, H.R. 267, the 2020 WHIP+ Reauthorization Act, which was included in the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act, signed into 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,” wrote the lawmakers. “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.”

The lawmakers continued, “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. 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.”

The letter is signed by Senators Murray (D-WA), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) as well as Representatives Suzan K. DelBene (WA-01), Dan Newhouse (WA-04), Kim Schrier, M.D. (WA-08), Derek Kilmer (WA-06), Peter A. DeFazio (OR-04), Marilyn Strickland (WA-10), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (WA-05), Adam Smith (WA-09), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01), Jamie Herrera Beutler (WA-03), and Rick Larsen (WA-02).

Read the full letter HERE and below.

Background:

  • Rep. Newhouse first introduced the WHIP+ Reauthorization Act in November 2020 and reintroduced it in January 2021. In July 2021 it passed the House Committee on Agriculture.
  • The bill was amended by the Agriculture Committee to reauthorize WHIP+ for 2020 and 2021 disasters and to provide relief for a broad range of events, including wildfires, hurricanes, drought, high winds or derechos, freeze, polar vortexes, excessive heat, and smoke taint. The amended legislation also changed the eligibility requirements for drought from a D3 declaration to a D2 declaration for at least 8 consecutive weeks.
  • The Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 authorized the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) to help agricultural producers affected by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019.  WHIP+ covers losses of crops, trees, bushes, and vines that occurred as a result of hurricanes, wildfires, and other qualifying natural disasters. Click here to learn more about the WHIP+ program.

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

Thank you for your continued work to deliver relief to our farmers, ranchers, Tribes, and communities in the Pacific Northwest impacted by severe weather events. To support those efforts, 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. 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.

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. 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.

As USDA drafts guidelines for the new program, we ask that you work with producers to include temperature-based thresholds for eligibility to capture heat-related losses, similar to extreme temperature models utilized in the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program. This will be critical for berry crops, shellfish, tree fruits, potatoes, dairy products, and beef cattle in parts of the Pacific Northwest which suffered some of the greatest yield and quality losses as a result of the severe heat wave, but may not operate in counties covered by D3 or 8-week D2 drought designations.

We urge prompt implementation of this critical assistance and appreciate your continued work to deliver relief to our agricultural producers in the Pacific Northwest impacted by severe weather events. Thank you for your consideration.

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