RANKING MEMBER BISHOP’S OPENING STATEMENT ON USDA DISASTER RECOVERY ROLE
Nov 29, 2017
WASHINGTON, DC – Congressman Sanford D. Bishop, Jr. (GA-02), Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, delivered the following opening statement earlier today during the subcommittee’s hearing on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) role in current disaster recovery efforts.
Video and background on the subcommittee hearing can be found here. Hearing witnesses included:
Mr. Rob Johansson, Acting Deputy Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation at the USDA
Mr. Leonard Jordon, Acting Chief for the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
Mr. Steve Peterson, Acting Administrator, USDA Farm Service Agency
Below is Congressman Bishop’s full statement as prepared:
Thank you Mr. Chairman and welcome Mr. Johansson, Mr. Jordan, and Mr. Peterson. We all appreciate your being here today.
Mr. Chairman, I am very pleased we are having a hearing on USDA’s role in this country’s recovery efforts, which will include discussing the Administration’s third disaster supplemental, as well as USDA’s relevant mandatory programs.
USDA has been called upon to help agricultural and rural communities across this nation affected by numerous disasters. This country has suffered from devastating wildfires in the West; tornadoes in Georgia, Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Louisiana; and catastrophic hurricanes extending from Texas to Georgia and the Caribbean.
Our Nation’s resolve and commitment to take care of its own is being tested, and I, for one, do not want to see us fail. I am sure the Chairman and I are of the same mind in that we are looking forward to working together, along with our distinguished subcommittee colleagues, to ensure that all the needs are met AND that they are met in a timely manner.
I am heartened by the statements that many Members have made in reference to the Administration’s first FY18 budget request, agreeing that it was only the beginning of the conversation and not the last word on how we keep this country moving forward in spite of ourselves. I see this supplemental request in the same way—it is only the start of the conversation and, unfortunately, an inadequate one at that. If enacted as is, it would send the wrong message to our fellow citizens, and the members of the world community, about our willingness and ability to care for our own. It would drastically slow down aid to areas hard hit by disasters, needlessly prolonging their misery and suffering, with particularly harsh effects in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
The Administration characterized their request as fully covering damages from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, while only covering medium-term needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands due to Hurricane Maria. However, lawmakers in states affected by Harvey and Irma have spoken out to say that they see this request as inadequate. And I agree! This package does not represent enough of an investment to truly get the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on the track to where they need to be. In Puerto Rico alone, it is said that approximately 40% of the island, like the area of Fajardo, is without power and sufficient water, and I recently heard from the Virgin Islands delegation that only 16% of St. Croix has power.
My own home state of Georgia suffered severe damage as Hurricane Irma moved out of Florida and, earlier this year, we led the nation in the number of tornadoes—which is not a record ANY state wants to hold. As many of you have heard me boast before, Georgia is a major agriculture state, with 42,000 farms, now contributing almost $75 billion annually to the state and national economies. It is number one in the nation for the production of poultry, peanuts, pecans, blueberries, and privately owned timberlands. Georgia’s second congressional district, of which I have the extreme honor of representing here in Congress, leads the state in peanuts, cotton, pecans, fruits, and vegetables, as well as family-owned timberlands.
Of the 29 counties that I represent, 26 of those are rural, with average populations between 10,000 to 15,000 people. These counties are some of the most economically disadvantaged counties in the state and the nation. They have suffered losses that have yet to be satisfactorily addressed. I am concerned that the package before us will only serve as a drop in the bucket as we enter the repair and rebuild phase following the disasters of 2017. We are now 32 days away from 2018. If 2018 is anything like 2017, and we continue to nickel and dime the country, the road to recovery will be but a dream.
Now, what we have jurisdiction over is the USDA portion of the disaster package, which totals around $1 billion. In isolation that sounds like a large number; however, when you look at the damage estimates coming in from the affected states and territories, it pales in comparison to the actual needs on the ground.
Mr. Chairman and Mr. Johansson, I am also deeply concerned that we are not seeing any requests regarding how to meet the nutritional needs of disaster victims.
As I have said before, there are limits to doing more with less, and you sure cannot try that approach when an emergency hits. That is when this country needs all hands on deck. It appears that the Administration is still having trouble realizing that, but, I assure you, there are a good many Members of the Congress who know it and who are doing all we can to ensure this great nation does not fall by the wayside. It is my hope that this supplemental will see a lot of improvement before it comes before the full U.S. House of Representatives on the House floor.
As you can see, we have a lot to discuss today. Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to welcome our witnesses and to share my concerns. I yield back.