The Department of Agriculture said Tuesday it will spend an initial $6 million to help Kansas farmers and producers in other states ravaged by recent range fires.
It’s a good first step, but it’s only a small drop in what will likely be a very big bucket. Kansas farmers and ranchers may need tens of millions of additional dollars to rebuild cattle herds and fences and restore pasture land. The federal government should help.
Sadly, that moral argument could face strong headwinds. Our representatives have sometimes been stingy when other parts of the country have asked for help.
Four years ago, for example, Sens. Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran of Kansas voted against a federal spending package designed in part to provide aid for victims of Sandy, the superstorm that plowed into New York City and other East Coast communities.
Both senators said at the time that the aid package had been improperly larded with other federal spending. Other Republicans complained the aid wasn’t “paid for” with cuts to the federal budget.
Both claims were true but also largely irrelevant. Emergency relief bills are almost always combined with other federal spending measures — the 2007 Hurricane Katrina relief bill included money for war in the Middle East.
And budget offsets are rarely required when Americans suffer a catastrophic loss from a natural disaster. The guiding principle: Get help to the people who need it as quickly as possible. Worry about cutting spending later.
Kansas and Missouri have long relied on federal help to recover from disasters. The Federal Emergency Management Agency spent $174 million to help with the cleanup in Joplin. Washington sent more than $85 million to Greensburg, Kan., after a tornado there.
Ice storms and floods have plagued the Midwest for decades. When unexpected costs overwhelm local governments, Washington usually steps in to assist.
It will be tough for our local representatives to make that case to members of Congress from New York and New Jersey. Their memories are justifiably long.
The nation must understand a new reality: Climate change will likely mean more extreme environmental events. From floods in California to drought in Texas to blizzards in New England, we will all need to rely on one another more than ever in the years to come.
Sens. Roberts and Moran applauded Tuesday when the $6 million aid package was announced. Both have argued eloquently for additional help in the area.
They have more to do. They should apologize to their colleagues from East Coast states before the full bill from the range fires comes due.