Miss. Lawmakers Part of Bicameral Effort to Stop Flawed Payment Plan for Natural Disaster Losses

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) and U.S. Representatives Michael Guest (R-Miss.) and Mike Ezell (R-Miss.) are part of a bicameral effort calling on the Biden administration to abandon a long-delayed and deeply-flawed agricultural emergency relief program.

The Mississippi lawmakers signed a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack that asks the U.S. Department of Agriculture to drop new requirements for the Emergency Relief Program (ERP), which is supposed to provide disaster relief funding for farmers harmed by natural disasters in 2022.

Signed by eight Senators and 58 House members, the letter said the misguided ERP 2022 requirements run afoul of congressional intent by setting excessive conditions that could force farmers to wait longer for assistance or completely jeopardize their ability to access the program.

“American producers have experienced significant losses, and the Administration has taken an approach that does not reflect congressional intent.  The current program does not provide needed assistance to full-time farm families that suffered the deepest losses, and in short, it misallocates limited but badly needed assistance,” the lawmakers wrote.  “Additionally, the methodology used for the 2022 ERP will negatively impact many farmers’ ability to receive financing from lenders and plan for the next crop year.”

“USDA needs to follow the law and congressional intent to address the crop losses of our farm families without the pay limits and without preferences that are not authorized by the statute,” the lawmakers continued.  ”We strongly request the USDA abandon this current program and implement the framework of 2021 ERP Phase 1 as quickly as possible.”

The lawmakers’ request originated following growing concerns regarding ERP 2022 expressed by numerous national agriculture organizations, as well as the Mississippi Farm Bureau and Delta Council.

The USDA departed from congressional intent by developing an ERP 2022 program that provides special treatment to underserved and part-time farmers, while allowing the smallest relative payments for larger-scale farmers with the biggest disaster-related losses.

The lawmakers explained that under ERP 2022, farmers suffering losses, who received assistance covering more than 75 percent of their calculated losses in 2020 or 2021, will now be capped at closer to 10 percent.

“For a mid-sized farm of 1,000 acres with calculated losses of $200 per acre ($200,000 in total losses), the vast difference between upward of $150,000 assistance in 2020 vs. $18,750 in 2022 could be the difference between survival and bankruptcy,” the lawmakers warned. 

U.S. Senator Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-Kan.) and U.S. Representative Jodey Arrington (R-TX-19) led the bicameral letter, which is available here.

Hyde-Smith also signed a letter, led by U.S. Senator John Hoeven (R-N.D.), that asks the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to review USDA implementation of ERP 2022.  In part, the letter asks GAO to determine whether “the use of a ‘progressive’ payment factor, rather than a single uniform factor, maximize program benefits in a manner that is unbiased and based on a producer’s loss.”  Read the letter to GAO here.

Read “Disaster of a Disaster Program,” an extensive Senate Agriculture Committee Republican blog post on ERP 2022 here.