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- American politician
GOSHEN — Ten years after the relentless rains of Hurricane Irene, Gary Glowaczewski is still paying off the federal debt he incurred because of the cruel blow nature dealt him and other Orange County farmers.
The 2011 storm submerged fields in the county's fertile Black Dirt area near the end of August, just as vegetable growers were preparing to harvest the onions for which their region is known. Entire crops were lost, and with it, all of the money that Glowaczewski and others had spent planting and nurturing them since spring.
On Tuesday, Glowaczewski stood with fellow growers and Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney at the Pawelski farm in Goshen to celebrate what could be a new lifeline for struggling farms: pending legislation that would cancel part or all of the debt they have amassed as a result of natural disasters like Irene.
The proposal, first introduced last year by Maloney and Sen. Kirsten Gillbrand of New York, may now come to fruition as a tiny part of the giant spending bill Democrats have negotiated in Washington for months. The $2.2 trillion overall plan is awaiting action in the Senate after the House of Representatives passed it on Friday in a party-line vote, with all Republicans opposed.
Under the modified version of Maloney's bill in the pending Build Back Better Act, farmers who borrowed money through any of three federal loan programs could have up to $150,000 of their remaining debt eliminated. For those who qualify as economically distressed because of their precarious finances, the government would forgive the entire debt.
About $10 billion has been set aside for farm debt relief in the pending package of funding for social programs and climate-change measures. Roughly 1,000 farms in New York stand to benefit, Maloney said on Tuesday.
Maloney, speaking in a farm building with the pungent smell of onions in the air, said the idea emerged from a brainstorming session with growers as "the simplest, best thing that would be a shot in the arm for our local farmers." He said its passage "will create an extraordinary opportunity for our local farmers to get ahead."
"With all the help that's going to other people in this economy, I just want to make sure that something happens for our farmers," the Cold Spring Democrat said.
Chris Pawelski, the fourth-generation onion grower who hosted the press conference, called the relief prospect "one of the most incredible things I've ever seen" in his 25 years of advocacy work on farm policy, saying it will ease the debt burden for an estimated 60,000 farms in the U.S.
"It really is an incredible, incredible achievement on the congressman's part," he said.
Glowaczewski, who grows onions, mixed greens and other vegetables on 600 acres in the Pine Island area, said afterward that the potential debt relief would be a "huge help" for him, shrinking the several hundred thousand dollars he owes for outstanding federal loans.
Standing beside him was John Madura, who raises similar crops on 300 acres in Pine Island. He noted that loans are common for farmers because federal crop insurance covers only a fraction of their weather-related losses. He said the pending relief proposal would cut half of his $300,000 in outstanding debt.
This article originally appeared on Times Herald-Record: Hudson Valley farmers could get debts cut by big funding bill in D.C.