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Office of the Press Secretary

For Immediate Release December 12, 1998
                              TO THE NATION
                           The Roosevelt Room           

THE PRESIDENT: Good morning. This month, as Americans begin to prepare for winter, our nation's farmers begin to prepare for the spring planting ahead. But this year has been very hard on farmers -- for some, the hardest in nearly two decades -- and many are strained to the breaking point. Today I want to talk about what we're doing to help America's farmers weather these hard times, and to build a stronger safety net to protect them for years to come.

We're living in a remarkable time of prosperity and even greater promise for our future. Our economy is the strongest in a generation, with more than 17 million new jobs, family incomes rising, the lowest unemployment in nearly 30 years, the lowest inflation in more than 30 years, the smallest percentage of people on welfare in 29 years and the highest home ownership in history.

America's farmers have helped to build this new prosperity, but far too many of our farming communities are not reaping its benefits. Flood and drought and crop disease have wiped out entire harvests in some parts of the country. Plummeting prices here at home and collapsing markets in Asia have threatened the livelihood of some farming communities.

Wherever we live and whatever work we do, every American has a stake in the strength of rural America. America's farmers are the backbone of our economy and the lifeblood of our land. Our farming families stand for the values that have kept our nation strong for over 220 years -- hard work, faith and family, perseverance and patience. We can't afford to let them fail.

Last summer we took action to ease the immediate crisis on our farms. We began buying millions of tons of wheat and other food to ease the burden of dropping prices here at home, and to feed hungry people in Africa, Russia and all over the world. I signed legislation to speed farm program payments to farmers, who need the money now to start planning for next spring. And I called on the Congress to take action to help farmers survive this year's one-two punch from Mother Nature and the marketplace.

I am pleased to say that this October, as part of our balanced budget, I signed legislation that included a $6 billion plan for farmers in need. This November, we started putting the plan into action, with nearly $3 billion in income assistance to farmers who have seen their profits wither as crop prices fell. Today, I am pleased to announce the next major step to ease the crisis on our farms: nearly $2.5 billion in emergency aid for farmers who have lost crops and livestock.

But with too many farm families still in danger of losing their land, and with crop prices still far too low, we know we must do more to strengthen the safety net for our nation's farmers. Government has an important role to play in meeting this challenge, but it's not something government can do alone. Ultimately, America's farmers will keep America's farms growing strong.

We know that no one can fully predict the changing weather or changing prices, but every farmer knows that crop insurance is one of the best ways to protect against the worst risks of farming. In good times, crop insurance gives farming families the security they need to thrive and grow. And in hard times, crop insurance can mean the difference between a spring planting and a spring sale of the family farm. But far too many farmers don't have crop insurance at all, or only buy the bare minimum -- not enough to withstand a really devastating year.

We need to do more to enable family farmers to fully protect themselves in hard times. That's why I am pleased to announce the funds we're releasing include $400 million in new incentives for farmers to buy crop insurance. We'll give farmers a one-time premium discount of up to 35 percent when they expand their crop insurance, and that will give our farming families greater security and more peace of mind.

Together, these steps will help thousands of farmers around our country to recover from this difficult time and plant a seed of hope for the future -- not only for stronger farms, but for a stronger America in the 21st century.

Thanks for listening.