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Congress Debates Drought Aid

After rejecting an $11 billion bailout package backed by Democrats, Senate lawmakers Wednesday prepared to vote on a $7 billion aid package backed by Republicans to help farmers stricken by a devastating drought, reports CBS News Correspondent Randall Pinkston. A vote on a bipartisan compromise bill is expected this week.

Meanwhile, with no rain in the forecast, crop growers continue to watch their profits dry up. The cries of those farmers were heard on Capitol Hill.

"There are thousands of very vulnerable small- and medium-sized farmers even in this region of the country who probably cannot survive without some additional assistance," Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman testified in Congress.

The Secretary of Agriculture declared farm disasters in six states — Kentucky, Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. Each state a similar scene of suffering with a different crop.


AP
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman testifies before the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Some other states are not on the disaster list yet, but are still disasters in the making.

In Massachusetts, irrigation is keeping crops alive and in Arkansas, cotton is cooking. This yearÂ's harvest hangs on the forecast and a lot of luck.

"ItÂ's like going to the casino," one farmer said. "ThatÂ's how farming is about to get. Roll the dice and hope for the best."

The one-two punch of drought following two years of depressed prices brought on by the Asian market collapse are threatening to put farmers across the land out of business.

Les Pruitt, a farmer from central Indiana, said, "if Congress doesn't act now, it will be difficult for me to meet my cash flow obligations. We need help now, not later."

Meanwhile, local authorities in northeast and mid-Atlantic states are beginning to impose restrictions on water use.


AP
New York Christmas tree farmer poses with balsam firs killed during drought conditions.

In New Jersey, mandatory water restrictions are affecting some 750,000 people in two counties. The restrictions allow altering day watering of lawns. However, if they donÂ't get rain soon, theyÂ'll ban all outdoor wter usage. That would mean anyone caught watering their lawns or washing their cars would face penalties and fines.

In Maryland, officials expect to move to water restrictions as well.

To ease heat wave-related suffering, President Clinton announced a $55 million allocation of emergency funds Tuesday for residents of nine states to help them cope with the heat.

The states are: Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska and Wisconsin.

The money will be used to help low-income Americans in those states pay for costs associated with home cooling, including the purchase of air conditioners and fans and the payment of utility bills.

This is in addition to the $100 million in such funds made available to 16 states and DC on July 12.

The oppressive heat wave, which appears to be easing, claimed at least 236 victims in 20 states. Hardest hit was Illinois, with 107 heat-related fatalities. Forty-five people died in Missouri, and 13 in Wisconsin - the common thread in most of the deaths was a lack of access to an air conditioner.