Opinion Extra

There’s nothing fair about a flood, or the governor’s veto

Thad Wimberly and Jonathan Berry inspect the damage to a field of peanuts in Branchville following the October floods.
Thad Wimberly and Jonathan Berry inspect the damage to a field of peanuts in Branchville following the October floods. AP

In October, our state was hit with an unprecedented natural disaster. Many families and communities suffered devastating losses: homes destroyed, businesses shut down, vital infrastructure damaged. Sadly, some even lost friends and loved ones.

Haley vetoes $40 million in aid to SC farmers

The historic flooding touched nearly every corner and every citizen of South Carolina in some way. While government assistance, hardworking volunteers, charities and countless individuals have helped many, we still have a long way to go before we fully recover. This is especially true for our farmers.

South Carolina’s farmers were among those hardest hit by the storm. They suffered more than $376 million in crop loss. Crop insurance will cover about a third of that. Believe me: Crop insurance is just not like normal business insurance or your homeowners insurance.

To date, FEMA has paid approximately $375 million for homeowners through flood-insurance claims and other assistance. An additional $157 million is coming to South Carolina from the federal budget passed in December. Farmers were excluded from this financial assistance, and there’s none on the way.

Dear Gov Haley: Farming is unlike any other industry

Chances are, you or someone you know missed work and wages because of the flooding. For many families, losing just a few days of work can mean a late car payment or postponing a medical procedure or some other important purchase.

Imagine, though, if the floods cost you an entire year of work and income. How would and your family cope?

That is exactly the situation our farmers face. Like every year, they invested money to put a crop in the ground in 2015. When the October floods washed crops away right at harvest time, the investment was lost too, and now farmers have to wait until the 2016 crop is harvested to produce income to live on and pay the bills.

Read the governor’s veto message

The Palmetto Farm Aid bill represents the last real chance to help farmers left out of all the other assistance flowing into the state. It creates a one-time $40 million fund to help those farms hit hardest by the storm. Only those farmers most affected by this disaster are eligible for grants, and the grant can only pay up to 20 percent of what was lost.

Our legislators understand how important this assistance is to our farmers. That is why this bill passed the House by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 95-6, and the Senate by 33-3.

Unfortunately, Gov. Nikki Haley does not support this help for farmers, calling it a bailout. It is not; it’s just a lifeline. To those who have likened the Palmetto Farm Aid Bill to the bank bailout of 2008, there is a major difference: Unlike the banks, farmers did not make the mess they are in, and no amount of preplanning or investment in crop insurance could have prevented the loss and devastation we saw.

Read the legislation

Now, Gov. Haley has vetoed the last bit of hope for many. This is consistent with her previous decision to leave farmers out in her request for help for South Carolina from Washington. However, it is not consistent with her numerous statements about fairness and treating everyone equally when it comes to providing financial assistance.

The consequences of this flood were extreme and should be treated as such. This one-time funding of $40 million is only for those hardest hit. While this aid will not make farmers whole, it will provide an opportunity for them to continue production in 2016. Helping those farmers who do so much for all of us — and who have been left out of most of the financial assistance coming into the state — is a simple matter of fairness.

Mr. Weathers is S.C. agriculture commissioner; contact him at hweathe@scda.sc.gov.