Letter to Ed Schafer, Secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Re: Meeting to Discuss Coordinated Disaster Response

Letter

By:  Barack Obama II Dick Durbin
Date: June 18, 2008
Location: Washington, DC

In Wake of Damaging Floods, Durbin and Obama Ask for Meeting with Secretary of Agriculture to Discuss Coordinated Disaster Response

As flooding worsens throughout the Midwest and begins to pose a serious risk to Illinois' agriculture industry, U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Barack Obama (D-IL) today asked for a meeting with the Secretary of Agriculture, Ed Schafer, to discuss damage assessments, options available to affected communities and plans for a coordinated federal response in the region.

"Though experts continue to assess the extent of the impact, it's clear that the recent flood waters have caused substantial damage, inundating farmland and destroying rural homes, businesses, and facilities. The floods of 1993 floods incurred more than $15 billion in damage," the Senators wrote. "Therefore, we request that you make the necessary declarations to ensure that our producers and rural communities have access to all appropriate sources of federal disaster assistance. In addition, we ask that you compile a list of programs that producers and rural communities may be eligible for."

Earlier today, in an effort to ensure a coordinated federal response, Durbin and Obama joined a bipartisan group of twelve senators from six Midwestern states in asking for supplemental funding that will enable the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Army Corps of Engineers, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, the Small Business Administration and other federal agencies to access the necessary resources to deliver critical relief to the affected areas as soon as possible.

[text of letter below]

June 18, 2008

The Honorable Ed Schafer
Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Schafer:

We write to request your assistance in responding to the severe flooding in Illinois that has occurred over the past two weeks and an opportunity to meet with you to discuss this issue. Though experts continue to assess the extent of the impact, it's clear that the recent flood waters have caused substantial damage, inundating farmland and destroying rural homes, businesses, and facilities. The floods of 1993 floods incurred more than $15 billion in damage.

It's likely that the recent flooding will result in reduced yields in Illinois and significant losses to Illinois' agriculture industry. Because many of our growers planted their crops only days or weeks before the flooding began, crops were highly vulnerable to adverse weather conditions. Many fields of corn, soybean, wheat, and hay have been deluged and crops have been lost. The same is true of acreage planted to specialty crops and certain varieties of fruit trees. Lastly, the timing of the flooding has prevented many growers from entering their fields to plant this year's crop. If wet weather conditions continue to persist, some growers may not be able to plant or re-plant a crop in time. The threat to Illinois farmland has only increased in recent days, with levees overtopping in Mercer, Henderson, and Adams counties that protect significant amounts of agricultural lands.

Beyond the effects on agriculture, the flooding has devastated communities and damaged homes, businesses, and critical public infrastructure in rural parts of Illinois. As floodwaters begin to recede in other parts of the Midwest, water levels in Illinois along the Mississippi River are expected to crest this week near or above the records set by the devastating floods in 1993. Due to existing damage from rising floodwaters and in anticipation of the widespread damage expected this week, Governor Blagojevich has issued state disaster declarations for Adams, Calhoun, Clark, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, Douglas, Hancock, Henderson, Jasper, Jersey, Knox, Lake, Lawrence, Madison, Mercer, Pike, Rock Island and Winnebago counties.

Unfortunately, the predicted impact of this flooding is greater than the capacity of state or local governments to respond to a disaster of this size. Therefore, we request that you make the necessary declarations to ensure that our producers and rural communities have access to all appropriate sources of federal disaster assistance. In addition, we ask that you compile a list of programs that producers and rural communities may be eligible for, including the Risk Management Agency (RMA) Prevented Planning Program, Farm Service Agency (FSA) Disaster Assistance Programs, and Rural Housing, Community Facilities, and Businesses Emergency Relief.

Lastly, we ask that you meet with us in the near future to discuss damage assessments and options available to our communities. We thank you in advance for your timely consideration of this urgent request and stand ready to assist in any way appropriate.

Sincerely,

Richard J. Durbin
United States Senator

Barack Obama
United States Senator