I hope this note finds you all doing well as we enter this 3rd month of 2019. The big news in the realm of Ag policy in recent weeks is that a group of bipartisan Senators from Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and South Carolina have introduced a disaster relief package in the Senate. The bill includes approximately $13.6 billion in disaster funding. Those funds include approximately $3 billion in funding for critical agriculture disaster relief for farmers recovering in the wake of Hurricane Michael and other natural disasters across the country, development grants for small, rural communities impacted by natural disasters in 2018, assistance for veterans’ health facilities, and military construction projects devastated by Hurricane Michael, emergency funds for critical timber, watershed, and wastewater infrastructure needs, restoration of highways, aviation facilities, and other transit projects damaged by natural disasters, and an additional $600 million in nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico in response to President Trump’s disaster declaration.
Lawmakers are working to iron out differences between several versions of disaster aid, including H.R. 268, a bill that was introduced by Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and has passed in the House, and Senate efforts which are expected to include at least some of the contents of S. 572 introduced by Sen. David Perdue (R-GA). According to Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC), a co-sponsor of S. 572, the current sticking points are aid for Puerto Rico and giving states jurisdiction to deliver disaster aid to farmers. Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-AL) is aiming to reach a compromise and pass a relief package before the March 18 recess week, but that could be difficult.
Last Tuesday Governor Brian Kemp and Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black were in Tifton to talk on the subject of disaster. Georgia’s Senators and some representatives, including Austin Scott, participated via teleconference. Georgia’s Congressional Members reassured the audience that help was on the way via WHIP. They said they hoped to see it voted on before the end of the month. Specifics were not included during this meeting. I will be in Washington next Tuesday through Thursday and it is my hope that more details can be procured at that time.
In terms of trade, Trump Administration Trade Representative appeared before Congress recently where he spoke to the administration’s hope that a deal would be made between the U.S. and China soon. This expanded off of several comments that Mr. Trump made on Twitter over the previous week regarding a pending trade resolution as well. The administration had planned to raise tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese imports last week but tabled that move citing a near term deal in the works. However, it should be noted that the Mr. Trump has no problem walking away from a deal as he did with North Korea recently. He was quoted as saying, “sometimes you’ve just got to walk away.” For the sake of all our bottom lines I hope that the meeting between President Xi and Mr. Trump goes over more smoothly than that of Mr. Trump and Chairman Kim.