As Policy Watch reporter Lisa Sorg explained yesterday morning, state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler has some rather grand plans for aiding farmers with state money in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.
Troxler, a Republican, asked lawmakers on the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Agriculture and Natural and Economic Resources yesterday for the $250 million to immediately fund the NC Farmer Recovery Reinvestment Program. The only requirements thus far are that the money would help the “underinsured and uninsurable” in 35 federally declared disaster areas with crops, livestock and poultry losses; and that a farmer must use the funds to continue in agriculture, including obtaining financing.
As Sorg’s story went on to explain, the request was met with sympathy, but some skepticism from lawmakers. Basically, lawmakers said, if we’re going to fork out that kind of dough, you’re going to need to come forward with something more than the vague plan Troxler outlined on Monday. At the time, Troxler said “We have a draft in our minds of what it would look like.”
An editorial in today’s Fayetteville Observer echoes the sympathetic but skeptical reaction that Troxler’s proposal received:
There is no question that our farmers need help, and that it’s not just charity — agriculture is one of this state’s big industries and we can’t afford to lose it, or even see it greatly diminished. Those $1.1 billion in losses translate to a total economic impact of about $2.8 billion.
But to some of the lawmakers who listened to Troxler’s plea this week, the Farmer Recovery Reinvestment Program sounded risky — it almost boils down to loading trucks with bushels of money and sending them out to spread the funds across the state’s farmland. It comes up short on details like oversight, accountability and programs with specific goals and purposes. How will the farmers be chosen? How will the program prevent waste and fraud? Those questions need to be answered.
Even some farmers were skeptical. “You could make good headlines,” said Duplin County farmer Morris Murphy, “but if the money is not put in the right places, it won’t solve the problems we have as farmers.” It could end up, Murphy said, “a government fiasco.”
“Fundamentally I’m not opposed to it,” chief budget writer Chuck McGrady told Troxler. The Henderson County Republican said “I just don’t know if I have enough substance right now to just buy into it.” Brent Jackson — a Senate budget writer, a Sampson County Republican and a farmer — agreed and asked Troxler to provide much more information before the General Assembly reconvenes next week to consider further aid for flooding victims.
Given the magnitude of the state’s farm losses, the size of Troxler’s request isn’t out of line. But the commissioner also has to know his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly are a fiscally conservative bunch and won’t hand him a blank check. He’s got a lot of work to do, and fast. But the state’s farmers are depending on him to design a responsible farm disaster aid program and get it back to our lawmakers next week.