Charity begins at home

Sen. Deb Fischer has asked for federal money to bail out ranchers hit by this month's snowstorm.

Sen. Deb Fischer has asked for federal money to bail out ranchers hit by this month’s snowstorm.

Little-noticed in the blizzard of news out of Washington early this month was a very real blizzard that swept northwestern Nebraska and western South Dakota.

Driven by winds of 70 mph,  a freak snowstorm Oct. 5 and 6 killed tens of thousands of cattle in South Dakota and Nebraska.

Unseasonably warm temperatures meant that many cattle were caught unprotected on summer grazing grounds. Most had not developed winter coats yet. They froze to death, were driven to exhaustion by the unending winds or suffocated under five-foot snow drifts.

As state emergency officials struggled to bury ton after ton of dead cattle,  no one bothered to call the federal government. It was closed.

Even worse, the federal program that compensates producers for losses from livestock disasters had expired, and the passage of a new Farm Bill was nowhere on the horizon. Were the livestock producers of South Dakota and Nebraska to fend for themselves?

Nebraska’s delegation is stuffed with fiscally conservative Republicans and, as the government reopened, all vowed to continue the fight for less spending, lower deficits and smaller government. (Obamacare, the cause of the shutdown, was no longer a GOP bargaining point.)

Given the chance to prove her fiscal tight-fistedness back home, junior Senator Deb Fischer chose not to lower the hammer on the ranchers in western Nebraska — even though she voted against disaster recovery funds to the human victims of Hurricane Sandy.

Fischer has asked Farm Bill conferees to retroactively include the few thousand cattle or sheep lost in four northwestern Nebraska counties — estimates of dead cattle in South Dakota run from 10,000 to 30,000. And that assistance would be on top of the tax dollars spent to bury the carcasses, replace fencing and rebuild shelter belts.

“As you move forward with the 2013 farm bill conference deliberations,  I request that you consider the livestock losses impacting the lives and operations of many Nebraska producers,” Fischer said in a letter to those members of Congress in charge of hammering out the differences between House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill.

“Specifically, I ask that you ensure that coverage of these livestock losses is included as part of the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) within the farm bill conference report.”

Apparently federal spending is pork only when it goes to some other state.

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Update: Nine northwestern Nebraska counties became eligible for federal emergency loans subsequent to the storm. Ranchers need to apply before June 30 to the U.S. Farm Service Agency for loans to replace lost livestock and damaged buildings, fences or equipment.