05/22/2001 11:00PM

Senators to sponsor aid bill

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Kentucky Senators Mitch McConnell and Jim Bunning plan to introduce legislation this year that would provide assistance to central Kentucky breeders, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported Wednesday.

During the past week, McConnell and Bunning have met with horse industry lobbyists concerning federal assistance to the central Kentucky horse industry, which has been hit hard by an unexplained foal-loss syndrome that is estimated to have claimed nearly 5 percent of this year's foal crop and 20 percent of the crop in 2002.

"We are working as quickly as possible to find a legislative solution to help those horse farmers hardest hit by this mysterious disease," John Mechem, a spokesman for Bunning, was quoted as saying.

Estimates of the economic damage caused by the syndrome are as high as $225 million. The horse industry has a $900 million annual economic impact in Kentucky.

The legislation could focus on low-interest loans to breeders and farms, said Greg Avioli, the deputy commissioner of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which has sent top officials to Washington to lobby.

The Department of Agriculture has already told racing representatives that horse breeders do not qualify for federal assistance under existing disaster-relief programs for cash crops.