USDA Also Continues Commitment in Regions Affected by Hurricane Gustav
WASHINGTON Sept. 5, 2008 - Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer today said USDA's many agencies have deployed personnel and resources to federal, state and local authorities in preparation of landfall for Hanna as either tropical storm or hurricane, as well as the approach of Hurricane Ike.
"Our prayers and concerns remain with all who have suffered from Hurricane Gustav and for those in the paths of the oncoming storms," said Schafer. "As the winds and rains of Hanna approach, USDA has readied food, emergency housing and other resources for the Atlantic Coast. Even as we prepare for Hanna and track the movement of Ike, USDA continues our Gulf Coast commitment to the immediate and long-term needs of communities that were hurt by Hurricane Gustav."
In Louisiana and Texas, USDA Forest Service incident management teams are working within the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) with response and recovery efforts from Hurricane Gustav. USDA also has staged incident management teams in Atlanta, Ga. to deploy nearby once Hanna makes landfall. USDA Forest Service emergency response managers and planners at work with FEMA officials in Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia are coordinating response efforts to Hanna this weekend and the potential impacts from Hurricane Ike next week.
Along the Gulf coast, USDA commodities are being made available to shelters in affected States as well as those hosting evacuees. Meanwhile, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service has pre-positioned food supplies and is ready to respond with additional commodities based on assessment of states along the East Coast.
USDA's Rural Development emergency response manager works closely with FEMA officials in Washington, D.C. and will be coordinating response and recovery efforts for potential impacts from Hurricane Hanna and Hurricane Ike next week.
The Food Safety and Inspection Service of USDA is providing critical food safety information to state and local agencies, consumers and the media through consumer alerts and food safety public service announcements (PSAs) in English and Spanish, and videocasts in American Sign Language. PSAs are being sent to media in Delaware, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia about preventing foodborne illness due to power outages. Alerts, videocasts and PSAs are available on the Web. The SignFSIS video-casts in American Sign Language featuring text-captioning are available on the Web at http://www.fsis.usda.gov/News_&_Events/.
USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is helping the National Animal Rescue and Shelter Coalition find additional pet carriers and food for evacuations. USDA also is ensuring that conditions in animal shelters are suitable as well as evacuation locations, pickup points and animal shelter locations.
USDA response efforts continue in Hurricane Gustav's aftermath:
Farmer and Rancher Assistance
Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas State and County Emergency Boards, chaired by the USDA Farm Service Agency, are reviewing the storm's impact on crops. Emergency loan and cost-share assistance is available to agricultural producers through the Farm Service Agency Emergency low-interest EM loans for crop and livestock production and physical losses in counties declared under a Presidential (FEMA) declaration or Secretarial disaster designation.
Assistance also is available through the Farm Service Agency Emergency Conservation Program funds. Signup will be held where authorized by FSA State Committees and processed subject to available funding. Producers with crops and/or livestock threatened by disaster conditions are reminded that under the 2008 Farm Bill, they are ineligible to receive disaster assistance unless they have crop insurance or Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) coverage. Many producers did not purchase either protection before the 2008 deadline, which occurred about the same time as passage of the 2008 Farm Bill. Therefore, Congress added to the law a provision that enables producers to pay a waiver fee, more commonly known as a "buy-in," to the crop insurance or NAP programs. The deadline to pay the waiver fee for disaster protection is Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2008. The fee structure and further detail about the fee can be found at http://www.fsa.usda.gov/FSA/.
Producers also are reminded that the payment of the applicable fee does not provide them with crop insurance or NAP indemnity payment for losses; it only makes them eligible to apply for assistance under the Supplemental Agricultural Disaster Assistance programs.
USDA's Risk Management Agency (RMA) is reminding all farmers and ranchers to contact their crop insurance agent or their insurance company if they have questions or concerns about their policy or the steps required to file a loss claim. Questions or concerns can be answered by calling the Jackson Regional Office at (601) 965-4771 if crops or livestock are located in Arkansas, Louisiana or Mississippi; the Oklahoma City Regional Office at (405) 879-2700 if crops or livestock are located in Texas; or RMA's Washington, DC office at (202) 690-2803.
People and Supplies
USDA has more than 600 employees deployed providing services to military as well as state, local and federal agencies. USDA's Forest Service provides a large portion of employees for logistical support, clearing roadways, operating mobilization centers and trailer staging areas.
As a result of the Presidential Disaster Declaration with Individual Assistance for affected disaster parishes in Louisiana, USDA has approved the state's request to run a Disaster Food Stamp Program. USDA also is allowing states that are not operating a Disaster Food Stamp Program to provide food stamp benefits to eligible households who have evacuated a parish or county approved for Individual Assistance.
Over 5,000 pounds of commodities and baby foods were ordered and delivered for families at shelters in Alabama and Louisiana. Schools serving as shelters are encouraged to use existing food commodities to help support mass feeding. National Evacuee Policies remain in effect for all states to streamline processing and expedite services for evacuees applying for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children - WIC Program.
USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service provided information in English, Spanish and American Sign Language about food safety due to power outages and flooding as resources to newspapers, broadcast and on the FSIS Web site.
FSIS also is sending the USDA Food Safety Mobile to help with the Hurricane Gustav relief effort in disaster-designated areas by FEMA. FSIS personnel and U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps officers are taking the Mobile to retail locations, such as superstores and home improvement stores, to distribute bleach and hand sanitizer and to educate consumers about maintaining food safety during the unique and specific food safety challenges caused by power outages and flooding. USDA also is providing useful recommendations on removing odors from freezers and refrigerators and cleaning kitchens for restoring safety.
"Ask Karen," a virtual representative, is available with food safety answers 24 hours a day at AskKaren.gov and the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854) is available in English and Spanish. The Hotline can be reached from l0 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Eastern Time) Monday through Friday and recorded food safety messages are available anytime.
USDA's Rural Development helps Rural America with housing loans and grants, funding for community facilities and business grants.
In Louisiana and Mississippi, USDA's Rural Development is working with FEMA and other Federal, State and local partners on recovery efforts as well as on the temporary and long term housing, community, infrastructure and business needs of the individuals and communities in the aftermath.
USDA's Rural Development is partnering with FEMA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the American Red Cross and Veteran's Administration to form a National Disaster Housing Task Force which will meet with Louisiana state and local officials to address sheltering as well as interim and permanent housing needs.
Individuals who have received USDA financing for single and multi-family housing can receive assistance with their current loan through the Centralized Servicing Center at (800) 414-1226. For individuals needing housing repair, rehabilitation and home purchase assistance, contact USDA's Rural Development at (800) 670-6553. For home financing, USDA will assist with expediting lender approval and approval for access to the Guaranteed Underwriting Services and offer streamlined loan processing as well as payment assistance on existing USDA's Rural Development Single and Multi-family loans.
Rural communities in Presidentially Declared Disaster Areas receive priority consideration for funding through USDA Rural Development's Rural Community Facilities programs for schools, libraries, childcare centers, hospitals, medical clinics, assisted living facilities, fire and rescue stations, police stations, community centers, public buildings and transportation.
USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has provided more than $2.7 million available for immediate actions in Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Texas for Emergency Watershed Protection requests resulting from storms or flooding. Removing stream blockages, twisted trees and home construction materials reduce flooding risks to life and property. These emergency funds can be used to protect and stabilize embankments and control erosion around culverts, bridges or open roads.
Rural businesses in Presidentially declared disaster areas receive priority consideration for grants through the USDA Rural Development's Rural Business Enterprise Grant program.
NRCS continues working with other USDA agencies, FEMA and the state emergency agencies to assist with upcoming post-disaster damage assessment, cleanup and restoration projects.
Additional information and updates about USDA's hurricane relief efforts are posted on the Web site at www.usda.gov/hurricane. For more information about the federal government response efforts go to www.DisasterHelp.gov.