For the first time in a long time, we have good news for our family farmers who have been under tremendous economic strain caused by drought, wildfires, and extreme heat.
Last week, the president signed into law H.R. 5305 – Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act (Continuing Resolution). A short-term funding solution to keep our government running is never ideal, but this Continuing Resolution provides for many of Central Washington’s priorities. Specifically, this law includes $28.6 billion in emergency support for natural disasters as well as my legislation, H.R. 267, the 2020 WHIP+ Reauthorization Act which is designed to help our famers here in Central Washington.
Family farmers across Central Washington and the West are all too familiar with the damage that natural disasters can do to their lives and livelihood. As a third-generation farmer in the Yakima Valley, I understand deeply the importance of agriculture for families, jobs, and trade in Central Washington and I am committed to advocating for policies—like the 2020 WHIP+ Reauthorization Act—that promote and protect our agricultural abundance and the economic opportunity it brings to Central Washington families.
In addition to droughts and wildfires, an extreme heatwave hit the Pacific Northwest in June with temperatures reaching as high as 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Smoke taint, a new phenomenon facing many of our winegrape growers, has completely destroyed wine crops over the last few years, which is devastating for Washington state’s more than 1,000 wineries and over 300 winegrape growers.
The Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) is a necessary resource for our agriculture producers as they continue to recover from the devastating wildfires, excessive heat, and drought conditions in our region – while facing down new threats every day.
It’s been quite the journey to get here though.
The Additional Supplemental Appropriations for Disaster Relief Act of 2019 authorized the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) to help agricultural producers affected by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019. The program covered the loss of crops, trees, bushes, and vines that occurred as a result of hurricanes, wildfires, and other qualifying natural disasters.
In November of 2020, I introduced the 2020 WHIP+ Reauthorization Act to reactivate the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) for 2020 natural disasters, including wildfires. Unfortunately, Congress didn’t act on it fast enough and the bill died. However, our producers, who had been hard hit by wildfires and the strain of the pandemic, were still in need of this program. So, at the beginning of the 117th Congress in January, I reintroduced the bill. This time, with some changes and much more support.
The bill was amended by the Agriculture Committee to reauthorize WHIP+ for 2020 and 2021 disasters and to provide relief for a broad range of events, including wildfires, hurricanes, drought, high winds or derechos, freeze, polar vortexes, excessive heat, and smoke taint. The amended legislation also expanded eligibility requirements for producers experiencing devastating drought impacts. In July of 2021 it passed the House Committee on Agriculture, setting it up for a vote before the full House.
Luckily for our producers, they didn’t have to wait long. I worked to include the 2020 WHIP+ Reauthorization Act in the Continuing Resolution, and $10 billion of the emergency disaster funding was specifically designated for the program. The legislation was signed into law on September 30, finally delivering certainty and a sense of relief for our producers in the midst of disaster.
While legislating is not always an easy task, passing good, common-sense legislation that will have a real impact for Central Washington reminds me of why I ran for Congress in the first place.
It is an honor to serve the constituents of Washington’s 4th, and I will always keep their lives and livelihoods in mind as I work to serve them every day.
Congressman Dan Newhouse of Sunnyside serves the 4th Congressional District in Washington, D.C