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Bill seeks more funding, increased eligibility for drought relief to MN farmers

(House Photography file photo)

Farmers devastated by last year’s drought could see more assistance and increased eligibility as House lawmakers make a quick push for further aid.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Sundin (DFL-Esko), HF3420 would appropriate $5 million to the Department of Agriculture to reimburse livestock farmers and specialty crop producers.

An additional $5 million would go to the Rural Finance Authority Disaster Recovery Loan Program and change eligibility from those with at least 50% of average gross income coming from farming over the previous three years, to 20% in the past year.

Receiving bipartisan support, HF3420, as amended, was approved 12-0 by the House Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee Wednesday and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

There is no companion bill.

Members agreed that aid is needed and hope the bill can move quickly.

“We’re not talking about stuff that is going to happen,” said Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin). “We’re talking about people that have had to take pretty, pretty substantial action that puts them right at the edge of surviving.”

Livestock farmers and specialty crop producers could receive up to $10,000 to cover drought-related expenses between April 1, 2021, and May 1, 2022.

Preference would be given to farmers in areas of the state classified as exceptional drought during 2021, followed by those in declining need of extreme or severe drought classifications. The Agriculture Department would be required to provide funding at random if applications exceed the total for those classifications.

“I’m hoping this is a strong statement today that we support helping the farmers that are impacted by this drought,” Sundin said. “We’ve taken the time to discuss these measures with the Department of Ag and address member’s concerns, and make sure that these funds will reach the folks that need it quickly; key word, quickly.”

While the bill was approved without opposition, Rep. Paul Anderson (R-Starbuck) questioned the change in Rural Finance Authority loan eligibility from 50% to 20%. He unsuccessfully offered an amendment to delete the eligibility change.

“I want the committee to know that at some point if we would choose to change those requirements for RFA loans, I have no problem with that,” Anderson said. “But making what is a fairly major policy change in an agriculture drought aid disaster bill, I don’t think is a place to do that.”

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