ESSENTIAL WORKERS Farmworkers in San Benito County and beyond have continued to work in the fields since the pandemic started, increasing their risk of exposure and illness, according to public officials.

California lawmakers announced Aug. 1 the introduction of a bill that would create a permanent structure to provide relief for farmers impacted by natural disasters. 

The Agricultural Emergency Relief Act aims to streamline the process for seeking and receiving relief.  

While Congress has previously provided aid to farmers harmed by natural disasters, the lack of a permanent program caused “unnecessary delays in implementation and confusion for farmers,” read a press release from the office of U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, one of the co-sponsors of the bill that was introduced Thursday.  

The bill will thus create a permanent structure of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Relief Program that covered loss to crops, trees, bushes and vines from natural disasters. The program was originally established in the 2022 emergency supplemental appropriations bill and extended in 2023, but was never formally authorized, according to the press release. 

Natural disasters covered by the bill include droughts, wildfires, floods, hurricanes, derechos, excessive heat, excessive moisture, winter storms and freeze events.  

To better serve farmers who grow specialty groups, which the USDA defines as fruits and vegetables, tree nuts, dried fruits, horticulture and nursery crops, the bill allows relief calculations to be based on losses in revenue or indemnities reported to the USDA. 

The bill would also require farmers who apply for relief to purchase crop insurance for two years after receiving a payment.  

For any further funding that may need to be allocated, the bill allows Congress to appropriate supplemental disaster funds based on the level of damage incurred in a specific year or event.  

“When a food producer suffers crop losses, they are forced to deal with a complicated and lengthy process to get financial relief,” said U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, another co-sponsor of the bill. “Creating a permanent disaster program—especially for specialty crop producers—is essential to ensure family farms stay in operation and our nation’s food security is preserved.”

The bill is also co-sponsored by California’s two senators, U.S. Sens. Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein. 

Copyright © 2023 Bay City News, Inc.  

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