Clinton orders aid to drought, heat victims

WASHINGTON (AP) — With scorching heat destroying crops and killing more than 100 people, President Clinton rushed disaster relief to Texas farmers Thursday and authorized $100 million to help Americans pay their electric bills and buy air conditioners and fans.
Clinton released $100 million from the low-income home energy assistance program to people in 11 Southern and Western states where temperatures are 16 to 26 percent above normal this summer.
The 11 states eligible for emergency aid are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas.
Hit by drought, floods and declining export markets, farmers saw their income plunge 35 percent in the first three months of this year, compared with the same period in 1996 when crop prices were unusually high. The election-year crisis has Democrats and Republicans scrambling to respond.
Clinton declared all Texas counties eligible for disaster assistance, making federal aid available to farmers. He also said he will send Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman to Texas and Oklahoma next week to inspect areas hit hardest by the drought and harsh temperatures.
The president urged House Republicans to support the Democrats’ $500 million emergency aid package passed by the Senate. House Speaker Newt Gingrich has tentatively endorsed the plan.
Gingrich and Clinton also are together in supporting legislation to speed up the $5.5 billion in payments that many farmers are due to get later in fiscal 1999, which begins Oct. 1.
Clinton acknowledged that the fast-track trade legislation — supported by many Republicans but opposed by most House Democrats — probably would not be approved before next year, after the November elections. Many farmers believe it would help increase agricultural exports once new trade deals are negotiated.