WASHINGTON (B)--Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman again urged key lawmakers to drop plans to give U.S. farmers about $7 billion in supplemental cash aid in fiscal 2000 and instead consider the president's proposal to disperse counter-cyclical payments and boost the Conservation Reserve Program to help out needy producers.

In letters dated May 19, Glickman told the chairmen of the Senate and House agriculture committees that he is worried that the conference committee presently dealing with a bill to strengthen U.S. crop insurance may soon add language to initiate the $7 billion in payments.

A congressional aide told BridgeNews that the Senate-House crop insurance conference committee is indeed considering "adding on language" to initiate the flow of $7 billion in additional Agricultural Marketing Transition Act payments.

The act was originally created by Congress to help farmers make the switch to a more market-oriented system in which the government

no longer dictated what producers harvested. Congress has voted to substantially increase those payments with emergency legislation over the past two years, and the United States Department of Agriculture argued each time that farmers hit the hardest by natural disasters and low commodity prices were not specifically targeted by the assistance.

In the letters to Sen. Richard Lugar, R-IN, and Rep. Larry Combest, R-TX, Glickman said, "The (Clinton) Administration strongly believes that farm income assistance should be targeted based on the level of producers' economic hardship. Unfortunately, supplemental AMTA payments...would be again distributed without any adjustment for the estimated hardship facing individual producers this year. These payments are based on what producers grew prior to 1996, not what they are growing now."

Glickman again advocated in the letters the $11.5 billion that President Bill Clinton proposed to spend over the next two years to help struggling farmers with "counter-cyclical farm income assistance" and implement a stronger Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to idle "environmentally sensitive" land.

Glickman also gave kudos for the chairmen's efforts to strengthen the government crop insurance program. The Senate and House versions of the bill are being refined to iron out differences in a conference committee.

The committee has already decided to boost funding for the new crop insurance program to $8.2 billion, up from the originally slated $6 billion, and to extend the program over five years instead of four. That is a better deal for farmers, committing $1.64 billion per year to the program instead of $1.5 billion.

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