Thursday, December 13, 2012

Congressional Research Service Report Released: Emergency Assistance for Agricultural Land Rehabilitation

The Congressional Research Service (CRS), the public policy research arm of Congress, just issued the report Emergency Assistance for Agricultural Land Rehabilitation (Dec, 11, 2012). The 16-page report authored by Megan Stubbs discusses the following:


The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers several permanently authorized programs to help producers recover from natural disasters. Most of these programs offer financial assistance to producers for a loss in the production of crops or livestock. In addition to the production assistance programs, USDA also has several permanent disaster assistance programs that help producers repair damaged crop and forest land following natural disasters. These programs offer financial and technical assistance to producers to repair, restore, and mitigate damage on private land. These emergency agricultural land assistance programs include the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP), the Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP), and the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program. In addition to these programs, USDA also has flexibility in administering other programs that allow for support and repair of damaged cropland in the event of an emergency.
Both ECP and EFRP are administered by USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA). ECP assists landowners in restoring agricultural production damaged by natural disaster. Participants are paid a percentage of the cost to restore the land to a productive state. ECP is available only on private land and eligibility is determined locally. EFRP was created to assist private forestland owners to address damage caused by a natural disaster on nonindustrial private forest land. The EWP program and the EWP floodplain easement program are administered by USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS). The EWP program assists sponsors, landowners, and operators in implementing emergency recovery measures for runoff retardation and erosion prevention to relieve imminent hazards to life and property created by a natural disaster. In some cases this can include state and federal land. The EWP floodplain easement program is a mitigation program that pays for permanent easements on private land meant to safeguard lives and property from future floods, drought, and the products of erosion.

 Most of the emergency agricultural land assistance programs are funded through supplemental appropriations, rather than annual appropriations. As a result, funding for emergency agricultural land assistance varies greatly from year to year. Agricultural land assistance programs do not usually receive the level of attention that triggers a supplemental appropriation. Therefore, funding is typically provided for these land assistance programs as part of a larger supplemental appropriation that funds a number of agencies and programs beyond agriculture. This irregular funding method has left some agricultural land assistance programs without funding during times of high request.

Recent restrictions placed on supplemental appropriations for disaster assistance have changed the way the agricultural land assistance programs allocate funding, potentially assisting fewer natural disasters. Language in the Budget Control Act of 2011 (P.L. 112-25) limits emergency supplemental funding for disaster relief. Specifically, funding used for disaster relief must be used for activities carried out pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (Stafford Act, P.L. 93-288) for FY2012 through FY2021. This means funds appropriated through emergency supplementals for disaster relief for these ten years may only apply to activities with a Stafford Act designation. Since funding for agricultural land disaster assistance programs is appropriated almost exclusively through supplementals, this requirement could limit the way agricultural land assistance programs work in the future, potentially assisting
fewer natural disaster events.

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