Making Horses Eligible for Federal Emergency Funds

Language making horses eligible for federal disaster assistance is now included in the USDA FY 2006 appropriations bill. The provision was added as an amendment offered by Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY). It was passed by voice vote. Its effective date would be July 28 in order to cover losses suffered because of Hurricane Katrina. The full 2006 USDA appropriations bill must still be passed by the Senate, which could occur as soon as today (Sept. 21) or tomorrow.

The provision is the same as the language in the Equine Equity Act (S. 1528) introduced in July by Senators McConnell, Jim Bunning (R-KY), and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR).

There is no similar provision in the House-passed USDA Appropriations bill. A Conference Committee will be formed to work out the various differences between the two bills, and the Conference bill will then have to be passed by Congress.

This legislation would also make horses eligible for federal emergency relief similar to other livestock and crops. It would specifically repeal the restrictive definition of livestock under the old and outdated Agricultural Act of 1949, which defined "livestock" to consist of various animals, including "equine animals used for food or in the production of food."

The exclusion of horses from relief under the various federal livestock assistance programs instituted since then seems to have followed that same definition, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture has followed suit in administering them. Horses have thus been ineligible for federal emergency funds, except when the industry got special ad hoc authorization for federally guaranteed loans for foal losses caused by Mare Reproductive Loss Syndrome. Senators McConnell and Bunning also spearheaded passage of that relief.

"This legislation would end the unfair discrimination of horses and make horse breeders and owners eligible for emergency assistance that producers of other crops and livestock have enjoyed," said Jay Hickey, president of the American Horse Council. "Broadening the current emergency assistance programs to include horses will rectify the unfair economic situation now facing horse owners and breeders versus other livestock producers in the aftermath of disasters."

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