South Carolina farmers who were financially devastated by last October’s record rainfall would be able to apply for emergency state grants under a bill that got key approval in the state House on Thursday.
House members voted 95-6 in favor of legislation that would allow farmers who lost at least 40 percent of their crops in the unprecedented amounts of rain and resulting floods to apply for up to $100,000 in state assistance. The bill will head to the Senate after another procedural vote next week, where it faces taller hurdles. Gov. Nikki Haley has also signaled her opposition to the idea in the past, although her office has not commented on this specific legislation.
“The intent of this legislation is to get crops back in the field as an economic development stimulus,” the bill’s lead sponsor State Rep. Brian White, R-Anderson, said on the House floor. “It’s to get these folks back farming, because it is our number one industry in South Carolina.”
The legislation would create a Farm Aid Board to consider grant requests. The board would consist of members from the agriculture industry, mostly appointed by legislative agriculture committee chairmen, and would convene whenever the governor declared a state of emergency and the US Secretary of Agriculture declared a disaster.
This new board would consider grant applications from farmers and could award grants to cover up to 20 percent of the farm’s crop losses or $100,000, whichever is lower.
Opponents of the bill argued it was benefitting politically-connected farmers over other businesses damaged by flooding. “I see the plight of the farmers, but there are many businesses all over this state we’re not helping,” State Rep. Ralph Norman, R-Rock Hill, said during Thursday’s debate. White argued that farms cannot use FEMA or Small Business Administration loans following a disaster as other businesses can.