To help residents, farmers and ranchers affected by the devastation caused by Hurricane Michael, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to aid people in their recovery efforts. USDA staff in the regional, state and county offices are actively responding, providing emergency response staffing and a variety of program flexibilities and other assistance to residents, agricultural producers, and impacted communities at large.
“The widespread devastation I saw in Georgia while surveying the damage this week makes clear that many agricultural producers were significantly impacted by this storm,” said Secretary Perdue, who traveled to storm-affected areas in Georgia with President Trump and Vice President Pence earlier this week. “USDA is committed to helping farmers and ranchers and rural communities successfully rebuild following Hurricane Michael.”
Some of the many ways USDA and its component agencies are helping residents in Alabama, Florida and Georgia recover following Hurricane Michael include:
Forest Service Assisting Evacuation and Rescue
The USDA’s Forest Service assisted with recent Hurricane Michael response efforts, led by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Specifically, the Forest Service manages FEMA’s Emergency Support Function #4, which mobilizes personnel, equipment, and resources in support of disaster responses. Other cooperators included the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Guard, Florida and Georgia State Emergency Operation Centers, and state and volunteer responders. In total, 152 evacuations, 4,194 rescues/assists, 21,568 shelter-in-place checks and 2,100 animal assists were completed.
APHIS Responding to Animal Emergencies
When disaster strikes and upon request, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) can provide assistance using boats and other equipment. Inspectors are coordinating closely with zoos, breeders, and other licensed facilities in the region to ensure the safety of animals in their care and checking local regulated facilities in the storm path to assess damage and ensure the welfare of those animals. APHIS also is assisting Georgia state officials and FEMA with poultry carcass disposal planning efforts.
Food and Nutrition Service Providing Assistance
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has been coordinating with FEMA on immediate disaster response, and with state, local and voluntary organizations to provide food for shelters and other mass feeding sites. Key actions include:
- Approved a waiver allowing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants in Florida to buy hot foods with their benefits through Oct. 31, 2018. Under normal circumstances, foods that are hot at the point of sale cannot be purchased using SNAP benefits.
- Issued October SNAP benefits early for recipients in Florida affected by the storm. Georgia has issued its remaining October SNAP benefits early.
- Approved the mass replacement of a portion of SNAP benefits for some recipients in certain hurricane-impacted Florida counties.
- Approved Florida’s request to allow the state to waive timely reporting of food loss to households in the counties of Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Homes, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Wakulla and Washington. This waiver approval will allow households in these affected counties to make a request for replacement of SNAP benefits through Oct. 30, 2018.
- Assisted Florida with identifying sources and location of FEMA-supplied infant/toddler kits for distribution to those in need. Worked with Florida to refer callers impacted by Hurricane Michael who need infant formula to suppliers.
- Requested 1,370 cases of USDA foods for distribution to two locations in Tallahassee, Florida and two locations in Panama City, Florida for congregate feeding operations.
- Approved Georgia’s request to allow the state to waive timely reporting of food loss to households in 92 hurricane-impacted counties. The waiver approval will allow households in these affected counties to make a request for replacement of SNAP benefits through Oct. 31, 2018. These replacement SNAP benefits will allow households to replace food lost due to power outages caused by Hurricane Michael; and,
- Assisted the Georgia Department of Public Health in acquiring FEMA-supplied infant/toddler kits for distribution to the general public with infants and toddlers, and discussed with Georgia WIC procedures for addressing infant formula needs through FEMA for participants impacted by the storm.
The Florida Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) continues to issue benefits remotely and assess WIC program needs in the impacted areas. Three local agencies remain closed.
Food Safety and Inspection Service Preventing Foodborne Illness
As residents make it back into their homes, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is helping ensure they are taking the proper steps to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Food safety tips after a power outage and flooding are available on the FSIS website.
Farm Production and Conservation Agencies Helping Producers Weather Financial Impacts
President Trump’s disaster declarations for Florida and Georgia means eligible producers in those states can take advantage of a USDA emergency loan program. These low-interest loans help farmers and ranchers recover from production and physical losses. USDA also offers additional programs tailored to the needs of specific agricultural sectors to help producers recover from losses and to help rebuild their operations.
USDA, through its new website Farmers.gov, recently launched a disaster assistance discovery tool that walks producers through five questions to help them identify personalized results of which USDA disaster assistance programs can help them recover after a natural disaster.
Livestock owners and contract growers who experience above normal livestock deaths due to specific weather events, as well as to disease or animal attacks, may qualify for assistance under USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program. Producers who suffer losses to or are prevented from planting agricultural commodities not covered by federal crop insurance may be eligible for assistance under USDA’s Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program if the losses were due to natural disasters.
Helping Operations Recover
Farmers and ranchers that suffered damage to working lands and livestock mortality due to Hurricane Michael are encouraged to contact their local USDA Service Center. USDA has multiple programs to help producers manage their operations:
Farmers and ranchers needing to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters can apply for assistance through USDA’s Emergency Conservation Program. USDA also has assistance available for eligible private forest landowners who need to restore forestland damaged by natural disasters through the Emergency Forest Restoration Program. USDA’s Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP) also can help relieve imminent threats to life and property caused by flood, fires and other natural disasters that impair a watershed.
Whether in a federally declared disaster area or not, technical and financial resources also are available through USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help with immediate needs and provide long-term support to help recover from natural disasters and conserve water resources. EQIP can aid in repair and mitigate loss in future disasters. Conservation practices such as obstruction removal, land clearing and snagging, land smoothing and repair of access roads may be implemented to address resource concerns caused by flooding. Also, during declared natural disasters that lead to imminent threats to life and property, USDA can assist local government sponsors with the cost of implementing recovery efforts like debris removal and streambank stabilization to address natural resource concerns and hazards through EWPP.
Orchardists and nursery tree growers may be eligible for assistance through USDA’s Tree Assistance Program to help replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes, and vines damaged by natural disasters.
USDA’s Office of Rural Development (RD) is helping businesses and utilities that are current USDA borrowers by considering requests to defer principal and/or interest payments, and to provide additional temporary loans. Current USDA single-family home loan customers may also qualify for assistance. Borrowers can contact their local RD office to obtain information on potential assistance. Additional information may be found on the RD website.
Producers with coverage through the Risk Management Agency (RMA) administered Federal crop insurance program should contact their crop insurance agent for issues regarding filing claims. Those who purchased crop insurance will be paid for covered losses. Producers should report crop damage within 72 hours of damage discovery and follow up in writing within 15 days. The Approved Insurance Providers (AIP), loss adjusters and agents are experienced and well trained in handling these types of events. As part of its commitment to customer service, RMA is working closely with AIPs that sell and service crop insurance policies to ensure enough loss adjusters will be available to process claims in the affected areas as quickly as possible. Please visit the RMA website for additional details.
There are a lot of USDA programs to help. Visit USDA’s disaster resources website to learn more about USDA disaster preparedness and response. For more information on USDA disaster assistance programs, please contact your local USDA Service Center. To find your local USDA Service Center, go to offices.usda.gov.