US & Canada

Drought aid hit by US Congress recess

Cattle in a low-water pond in Okarche, Oklahoma 30 July 2012
Image caption Farmers across the US Midwest have had to sell livestock as the price of feed has risen

The US Congress has failed to agree on a disaster-relief package for drought-affected farmers before lawmakers head off for a summer recess.

The House voted to help cattle and sheep farmers hit by the most severe drought in a generation.

But it is not clear whether the Senate - which passed its own farm bill in June - will take up the bill before its five-week recess begins on Friday.

Correspondents say it may take months before any aid is released to farmers.

Congress failed to pass an overarching five-year farm bill as the Senate version of the law passed omitted spending cuts favoured by House Republicans.

The latest bill approved in the House on Thursday included $383m (£247m) of funding that would be available to farmers as payments of up to $100,000 per farm.

It would be paid for by taking $630m from two conservation programmes.

But a deal with the Senate that would release funds is not now expected until after the holiday.

Cost of aid

The House-backed scheme would not be available to crop farmers, who can still access crop insurance. Hog and poultry farmers are also not eligible for the funds.

Republicans and Democrats in the House remained divided over the issue of subsidies and relief, as well as plans to fund the bill through cuts to food stamp assistance.

"It's as simple as that: There is a problem out there. Let's fix it," House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas said before the vote.

But Collin Peterson, the top Democrat on the committee, said: "This bill is a sad substitute for what is really needed, a long-term farm policy."

The bill would allow the Department of Agriculture to pay 75% of the value of animals killed by drought and 60% of the feed costs for the livestock for between one to three months.

The legislation would also offer some help to bee keepers, fish and tree farmers.

About half of all US counties have been declared disaster areas, as the drought crippled US crops, the Department of Agriculture said on Wednesday.

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