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Feenstra Responds to Democrats Voting to Strike Derecho Relief, Turning Their Backs on Iowa Farmers

February 26, 2021

WASHINGTON -- Rep. Randy Feenstra (IA-04) released the following statement after House Democrats voted to strike his amendment to provide derecho disaster relief for Iowa producers and small business owners already dealing with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic:

“I’m extremely disappointed that Democrats in the House have voted to turn their backs on Iowa farmers by voting to ax derecho disaster relief. We’re about to enter planting season, and many farmers are still recovering from losses due to the pandemic and last year's devastating derecho. Farmers across the country who suffered from natural disasters in 2020, in the middle of this pandemic, need relief now. 

“Despite Democrats’ ridiculous excuses for cutting this disaster assistance, my amendment was stripped for one simple, obvious reason: It was led by a Republican. Democrats chose to put politics over people, leaving struggling Iowa farmers in the dust. Iowans deserve better from Democrats. All of rural America deserves better from Democrats.

“As the only bipartisan amendment to pass out of any committee, it was the last hope for bipartisanship in the entire reconciliation process. But it’s clear Democrats have never been interested in ‘unity.’ They're only interested in advancing their agenda -- an agenda that benefits coastal states and leaves Iowans behind.

“I will continue working with my colleagues to push back against Speaker Pelosi’s out-of-touch policies, and I will never stop fighting to deliver results for the hardworking men and women of Iowa who feed and fuel the world.”

Before Democrats voted to remove disaster relief from the bill, Rep. Feenstra testified before the House Committee on Rules. 

Click here to watch a video of his testimony. Below are his full remarks, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. Chairman and Mr. Ranking Member – Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today about my amendment, number 201, that I am introducing with my fellow Iowa colleagues Congresswoman Ashely Hinson and Congresswoman Mariannette Miller-Meeks.

This amendment, which passed in the House Agriculture Committee on a bipartisan vote, would make assistance available to farmers struck by disasters in the midst of this pandemic.  This includes producers in my state, which was devastated by a derecho last summer.

The derecho, which occurred last August, is considered the most costly thunderstorm in US history.  This high wind storm damaged over 40% percent of Iowa cropland. The wind speeds reached 126 mph.  The same wind speeds you would expect from an EF3 tornado or a major hurricane.

All told, the storm had severe impacts to 3.5 million acres of corn and 2.5 million acres of soybeans. The storm was so strong it damaged or destroyed more than 57 million bushels of commercial grain storage and tens of millions of on-farm storage. The total cost of damage was $7.5 billion.

As I mentioned, this took place during a spike in COVID cases.  Only a few months earlier, the virus had frozen supply chains and grocery store shelves were empty of some basic needs.  Iowan farmers had to prepare to harvest what crop they could salvage.

We aren’t even a year removed from that storm and we are not close to a recovery.

Farmers need relief now. Not in 6 months. Not in a year. Now! All across the country, farmers who suffered from natural disasters in 2020, in the middle of this pandemic, need this relief now.

This is their livelihood. After the large spike in cases over the winter, our farmers are already beginning the work of getting crops in the ground.

I’m sincerely disappointed with how Democrats have chosen to approach this process. Since being elected, I have made an honest effort to legislate with both sides of the aisle.  The fact that my amendment passed through the Agriculture Committee with bipartisan support proves that this has merit. 

This $1.9 trillion bill is being called a rescue plan but the base text that was written without republicans does not rescue farmers reeling from disasters during a pandemic.  My amendment found common ground to address that and democrats agreed with me both in the committee and after the vote. 

That’s why I find it even more disappointing, that today, House Democrats are choosing to go out of their way to strip the one last opportunity for bipartisanship that existed.

This past week, I asked my Democrat colleagues why Democrat leadership would strip out my amendment? I got a few responses that I would like to personally address.

First, there are concerns that my amendment would bust the budgetary caps or take away relief. The Congressional Budget Office said this amendment has absolutely no budgetary impact on the bill.

The truth is, the bill created a $4 billion pot of money for USDA.  My amendment just adds another use for that money and the Secretary of Agriculture has full discretion on how he feels the money should be spent.

 Secretary Vilsack was just confirmed 92 to 7, and I share the confidence of my colleagues that he would judiciously spread that $4 billion, where appropriate.

Second, there is concern that my amendment is not germane or would cause difficulty in the Senate. 

When I worked this amendment through the Agriculture Committee the nonpartisan parliamentarian issued an opinion stating that this amendment was germane to the bill.

And any honest person can determine that giving relief to someone who suffered a disaster while trying to figure out what to do during a pandemic is way more relevant than a bridge to Canada or an underground train.

The Senate parliamentarian already ruled against the germaneness of the $15 minimum wage hike. Yet the Speaker has no problem keeping that provision in to be stripped by the Senate. I can’t bridge the logical divide for stripping my bipartisan amendment on these grounds.

Third, some say my amendment is too regionally specific.  The USDA’s Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program benefits producers across the country – including producers who were impacted by severe drought in the Southwest United States or by wildfires in California and the Pacific Northwest to name a few.

Derechos have never been covered by this program.  Those who created the program may not have known what a derecho was or the devastation it can produce. 

Lastly, there are concerns that the $4 billion would not be enough.  I find this to be the worst argument against the amendment out of all of them. 

Even a small amount of funding is greater than nothing.  And nothing is exactly what have been offering for days. Weeks. Months. 

There may never be another vehicle that could move with this provision.  I won’t apologize or meekly defer to some backroom legislative writer’s room that think they know better. That isn’t how a functioning legislature should work.

To close, I want to put things into perspective. There is $1.9 TRILLION being spent in this bill and there was one bipartisan amendment in the entire process that was adopted that allowed some funding to be spent towards helping areas of rural America that were devastated by natural disasters.

This amendment concerns JUST PART of LESS than .2 percent of the entire cost of this bill and again was approved in the House Agriculture Committee.

Yet, it is being stripped for what reason? Because it happened to be offered by a Republican? Iowans deserve better from Democrats. Rural America deserves better from Democrats. 

As the breadbasket to the world, I will continue fighting tirelessly to deliver for the hardworking men and women of Iowa and all across rural America.

I encourage my colleagues to adopt my amendment and allow this relief to be delivered to rural America.

I yield back.