WASHINGTON (AP)--Farmers who lost crops to drought and other weather-related problems last year are getting less than 70 cents for every dollar in losses because there was too little money to go around, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said April 4.

USDA received $1.85 billion in claims, and had $1.3 billion appropriated by Congress to cover them.

About 260,000 producers are receiving payments of as much as $55,680 per farmer.

USDA covered 85 cents of every dollar in claims on 1998 crop disasters.

"Despite a vibrant national economy, these are difficult times for America's farmers and ranchers," said Keith Kelly, administrator of USDA's Farm Service Agency. "This assistance should provide additional, needed relief to farmers still reeling from recent costly natural disasters."

USDA decided to distribute the disaster aid in two installments, knowing that the claims would have to be prorated. Payments totaling $500 million were made earlier, while checks for the remaining $800 million are going out this week.

Texas received the most in total payments, $196.8 million, followed by North Dakota, $143.6 million; Georgia, $73.5 million; California, $68.7 million; and North Carolina, $64.7 million.

Lawmakers from the Northeast, hard hit by last summer's drought, have been working to get Congress to approve additional aid to farmers.

"Congress has been very generous in providing emergency aid to farmers in the Midwest and the South when their crops are devastated. We need to have some equal treatment for farmers in the Northeast," said Wendy Darwell, a spokeswoman for Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-NY.

Hinchey has sought an additional $150 million in aid. The House Rules Committee refused to allow him to offer an amendment to a supplemental appropriations bill, so he hopes to add the money to USDA's 2001 budget, Darwell said. Hinchey is a member of the House agricultural appropriations subcommittee.

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