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Oregon Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley help get a disaster relief package passed in the U.S. Senate

GRAPHIC FILE PHOTO - Congress passed a bipartisan disaster relief package this summer and included in that is cash for hazelnut growers and winery owners.

Two members of Oregon's congressional delegation announced last week that the state's wine and hazelnut industries will get some help from the feds to counteract the effects of last year's wildfires and severe storms.

Congress passed a bipartisan disaster relief package this summer and included in that is cash for hazelnut growers and winery owners.

"When disaster strikes the communities who've been hit need a direct line in D.C. to the folks who can help them out," U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley, who lobbied for the bill alongside senior Sen. Ron Wyden, said. "One of the reasons I wanted to be on the Senate Appropriations Committee was to make sure that Oregon's interests were represented in Congress and this disaster bill is a meaningful example of why that's so important."

The bill, Merkley explained, will provide "significant support" for producers across the western United States who were affected by wildfires, such as winery owners, and those affected by severe storms last winter that damaged crops like hazelnut orchards. "Now two of Oregon's major industries can recover and thrive," he said.

The $19.1 billion disaster relief package includes more than $3 billion for agricultural producers who were hard hit by natural disasters in 2018-2019, including an estimated $3 million in damage to wine grapes due to wildfire smoke and $11 million for hazelnut producers whose crops were damaged by severe storms.

The response from the hazelnut industry was swift, appreciative.

"Oregon's hazelnut growers are thankful that they will have the opportunity to access federal disaster relief to help recover from this year's severe winter storms," said Larry George, CEO of George Packing Company and a former state senator. "Hazelnuts are one of Oregon's top agricultural commodities and we appreciate Sen. Merkley's leadership in the Senate Appropriations Committee and the efforts of our entire federal delegation in helping secure this vital funding."

The wine industry was equally appreciative.

"We are pleased that Oregon winegrowers may be eligible for federal disaster relief if their crops were negatively impacted by devastating 2018 wildfires," Jana McKamey, vice president of Government Affairs for Oregon Winegrowers Association, said. "Oregon's family-owned wine businesses appreciate the leadership of Sen. Merkley and Sen. Wyden in helping secure this critical funding stream that can help affected growers stay in business."

The relief dollars are being distributed through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Farm Service Agency. To enroll, wineries and hazelnut growers can join the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) via a local USDA service center or by visiting Eligibility for federal funds is determined for each producer based on the size of the business' loss and its level of insurance.

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