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Rockefeller writes for drought relief

August 10, 1999|By DAVE McMILLION, Charles Town

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller sent a letter to President Clinton and two agriculture appropriations committee members Tuesday asking them for drought relief funds for West Virginia farmers.

The request follows last week's unsuccessful attempt by a Senate appropriations committee to put together a $200 million drought relief package for farmers.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., made the attempt again to secure drought aid for farmers, although no action is expected until September when Congress returns from its month-long recess, said Rockefeller spokeswoman Joy Sims.

Last week, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman announced the state had been declared a federal disaster area, making millions of dollars in low-interest loans available to farmers.

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But under Rockefeller's proposal, drought aid would be given to farmers in the form of grants, not loans, said Sims.

Rockefeller did not specify in his letter how much drought relief he wanted.

The letter also was sent to Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who chairs the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, and Rep. Joe Skeen, R-N.M., who will help lead the committee's conference next month when it finalizes the wording of the agriculture appropriations bill.

U.S. Rep. Bob Wise, who was in the Eastern Panhandle Tuesday, said he supports grants for farmers. But instead of straight cash distributions to farmers, Wise said he wants requirements specifying that the money be used for such assistance as hauling grain and water to farmers.

The effort to get aid for farmers has been frustrating at times, according to Sims.

State farmers face daunting problems, including up to $100 million in crop losses and rainfall totals as much as 15 inches below normal.

Getting others to appreciate the seriousness of the situation is difficult, said Sims.

In his letter to Clinton, Rockefeller pleaded with the president to use any influence he has on members of the appropriations subcommittee.

"I would ask that you send the strongest signal possible to Senate and House Appropriations conferees that drought disaster funding must be included in the final version of the Agriculture Appropriations bill," he wrote.

In his letter to Cochran, Rockefeller described meeting with farmers in the Eastern Panhandle and realizing "how rare and agonizing it is" for them to look for help from Washington.

"I hoped that I could assure them that Congress would treat their crisis situation the same way we have repeatedly responded to the plight of Americans struck by tornadoes, floods and hurricanes," he said.

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