Following the Oct. 4-5 blizzard that killed as many as 30,000 head of cattle in western South Dakota, all three members of the state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Dennis Daugaard have toured the impacted areas and met with worried ranchers, some of whom lost half their herds.
For many area ranchers, the storm wiped out an entire year’s income as they were close to beginning their fall roundups and gaining income from cattle sales. Ranchers who have been hurt badly by the disaster are asking Sens. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., and John Thune, R-S.D., and Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., for help.
The problem is that the Farm Bill, which could provide compensation to ranchers who lost livestock in the storm, expired on Sept. 30. As is typical for how things have been done in Washington, D.C., in recent years, Congress let the Farm Bill lapse before trying to resolve partisan differences.
Noem is on the conference committee that has begun meeting — a full month after the bill’s expiration — to negotiate differences between the House and Senate versions of the legislation.
Among the provisions that could provide relief to area ranchers are the Livestock Indemnity Program and the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program, both of which expired in 2011, and which would be funded in the 2013 Farm Bill. Noem said in a news release that she was eager to negotiate on the Farm Bill that would provide funding for livestock disaster programs that ‘‘would bring much needed relief to West River ranchers who were hit hard by the recent storm.’’
Both Johnson and Thune have said resolving the differences between the House and Senate versions would be difficult. Thune said the fight over how much to cut the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as the food stamp program, is key to getting the Farm Bill through Congress. The Senate bill cuts the SNAP program by $4 billion over 10 years, and the House version includes a $40 billion reduction. There is a number between the two figures that will get enough votes to pass both houses of Congress, Thune told the Journal.
The amount of cuts to the food stamp program is relatively small, given that the program has doubled in size since 2008 to around $80 billion a year. Waging an ideological war over whether to cut 5 percent or 0.5 percent from the food stamp program that has increased 100 percent in five years is pointless, in our view.
The more important issue is getting the 2013 Farm Bill through Congress as swiftly as possible. Since Noem asked to be included in the conference committee, we urge her to take a leading role in urging her Republican colleagues to bend on their ideological opposition to expanding the food stamp program in order to get the Farm Bill passed. If she can also persuade the ideologues on the Democratic side to also compromise, all the better.
Let’s get the long-delayed 2013 Farm Bill passed and on President Barack Obama’s desk for a signature as soon as possible.
— Rapid City Journal