ABC10: Bill aims to expand disaster relief for farmers

By Elisha Machado

On Monday, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) announced new legislation to support growers impacted by natural disasters.

The bill would expand limits that determine which growers can participate in USDA programs, including disaster relief.

The announcement comes as farmers are still working to recover from disasters that struck California this year, including winter storms and floods.

“Well, it was pretty rough. When the flooding happened, there was nothing we could do. There’s no way to stop it,” said Rick Grimshaw, one of the owners of Davis Ranch in Sloughhouse.

Grimshaw said a levee break flooded his and neighbors’ fields. Six of his fields had to be re-leveled.

Now eight months after the floods struck the area, he is still dealing with the impacts.

“I’m still in the process right now of being reimbursed for everything that we’d done. It was all up front costs that we had to pay,” he said. “It hurts.”

He’s not alone. Walnut grower Mitchell Farms, located along the Cosumnes River in Sacramento County, is also working to recover.

“We had eight very large heritage oak trees topple into the walnut orchard,” said Charlotte Mitchell, with Mitchell Farms. “We are still cleaning up from that, trying to get that orchard back into shape.”

“We’ve applied for federal funding, and I believe we’re going to get approved, and we know nothing yet, so it’s a shortfall between January and when the income for the grapes come in, which normally October, November, December,” said Jack Kautz, with John Kautz Farms.

They grow grapes along the Cosumnes River. Kautz and other farmers are asking for more funding, delivered quicker.

Under current guidelines, the USDA bans payments to growers with an adjusted gross income over $900,000 for most programs, including disaster relief. Padilla’s office said these qualifications exclude many specialty crop growers.

The legislation would waive the AGI limit for farms that get 75% of their income from farming or ranching. They would have access to programs including the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honeybees and Farm-Raised Fish Program, among others.

“We can help more farms survive after disasters,” Senator Padilla said.

Padilla is hoping to include the proposal in the 2023 Farm Bill, which is a federal agriculture bill that typically renews every five years.

Farmers said they hope to see more efficient and effective administration of relief programs.

“They need to streamline it to where they get the money out there when a disaster happens and get it fixed,” Grimshaw said.

ABC10 asked Senator Padilla what it will take to get this bill to the finish line as a Sept. 30 deadline looms. He said his office has been reaching out legislators from both sides of the aisle and from other states. He said the legislation has bipartisan support and they will work to ensure it makes it into the final Farm Bill as the process continues.

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