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We can’t make it rain, but Bush can lend a hand

DENVER—With the arrival of President George Bush scheduled for midday Monday, farmers and ranchers from throughout the state gathered across from the Wings Over Colorado Museum, where the president’s appearance was aimed at helping Sen. Wayne Allard’s struggling re-election campaign. The producers speaking to reporters prior to Bush’s arrival were less concerned about politics than they were about saving their farms and ranches.

“Colorado producers are suffering from an historic drought. In southern Colorado, 2002 is the third year of drought,” said Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) President John Stencel. “Making matters even worse is the fact that the drought comes on the heels of several years of very bad prices for farm commodities.”

RMFU is frustrated that President Bush and GOP House leaders have stalled emergency disaster assistance that would be a lifeline for many Colorado producers. A measure providing nearly $6 billion assistance for those suffering catastrophic disasters in 2001 and 2002 was passed overwhelmingly in the Senate in early September. A companion bill with bi-partisan sponsorship was introduced in the House, but veto threats from the Bush administration is blamed for blocking a vote on the measure prior to the election recess. Lawrence Gallegos, a cattle and hay producer from Antonito, Colo., in the San Luis Valley admitted to reporters that he does not understand President Bush’s reluctance to support disaster assistance. “I harvested just 20 tons of hay this year, when a normal year would yield 700 tons,” Gallegos said. “My family has been farming and ranching in this area for generations, but without some federal assistance, we may not be able to continue.”

RMFU is urging Allard and President Bush to make emergency disaster assistance one of Capitol Hill’s top priorities when Congress reconvenes. Due to lower production and higher crop prices, the farm bill program will spend far less than projected, easily offsetting the amount proposed for disaster assistance.

“When a hurricane rips through the southeast, there is no hesitation in allocating disaster assistance to help people get back on their feet, yet we have an estimated 20-40 percent of Colorado family producers who could lose their operations without this type of help from the federal government,” Stencel said. “We need decisive action from the president to make this happen, and it would be nice to have more aggressive support from Sen. Allard.”

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