Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced an important package of disaster assistance valued at $209 million to help farmers, land owners and communities recover from the effects of Superstorm Sandy. Funding is provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Emergency Conservation Program (ECP), Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) and Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP). Together, the assistance will help rebuild and repair land damaged on account of flooding and other events in 12 states. Qualifications for funds are based on the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, while funding is provided under the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act, 2013, signed by President Obama on January 29. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) remains focused on carrying out its mission, despite a time of significant budget uncertainty. Today's announcement is one part of the Department's efforts to strengthen the rural economy.
"Landowners, individuals and communities along our Eastern Seaboard have endured incredible hardships because of the intensity and havoc wrecked on their livelihoods by this historic storm," said Vilsack. "President Obama and USDA are committed to helping America's producers, private forest owners and other communities recover, repair and rebuild. This funding will help to rebuild communities, while states can use the funds to carry out emergency recovery measures. At the same time, this assistance keeps farmers on the farm, ranchers on the ranch, and landowners on their land, helping to keep American agriculture profitable."
Through the Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP), USDA will offer up to $171 million to help communities recover. EWP helps conserve natural resources by relieving imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, windstorms and other natural disasters. Recovery assistance for Superstorm Sandy could include: debris-clogged stream channels; undermined and unstable stream banks; jeopardized water control structures and public infrastructures; wind-borne debris removal; and damaged upland sites stripped of protective vegetation. Both public and private landowners are eligible for assistance, but they must be represented by a project sponsor.
NRCS can pay up to 75 percent of the construction cost of emergency measures or up to 90 percent in limited-resource areas. The remaining cost-share must come from local sources and can be in the form of cash or in-kind services.
The Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) program will contribute $15 million to producers to help remove debris from farmland, restore livestock fences and conservation structures, and grade and shape farmland damaged by the natural disaster. FSA county committees determine eligibility based on on-site inspections of damaged land and considering the type and extent of damage. For land to be eligible, the natural disaster must create new conservation problems that, if unattended, would impair or endanger the land; materially affect the land's productive capacity; represent unusual damage which, except for wind erosion, is not the type likely to recur frequently in the same area and; be so costly to repair that federal assistance is or will be required to return the land to productive agricultural use.
The Emergency Forest Restoration Program (EFRP) will provide $23 million in payments to eligible owners of nonindustrial private forest (NIPF) land in order to carry out emergency measures to restore land damaged by the natural disaster. The land must have existing tree cover (or had tree cover immediately before the natural disaster occurred and is suitable for growing trees) and; be owned by any nonindustrial private individual, group, association, corporation, or other private legal entity, that has definitive decision-making authority over the land. In addition, the natural disaster must have resulted in damage that if untreated would impair or endanger the natural resources on the land and materially affect future use of the land.
ECP and EFRP participants may receive cost-share assistance of up to 75 percent of the cost to implement approved emergency practices. Qualified limited-resource producers may receive cost-share assistance of up to 90 percent of the cost to implement approved ECP practices.
This particular funding for ECP and EFRP is limited to counties named in Presidential Disaster Declarations due to Superstorm Sandy. Producers and forest owners in eligible counties of the following states are eligible for assistance:
5. New Hampshire
6. New Jersey
7. New York
10. Rhode Island
12. West Virginia
FSA has been collecting ECP and EFRP applications in anticipation of the funding becoming available and will begin providing assistance immediately to eligible landowners. Applications will continue to be accepted through May 31, 2013. For further information on eligibility requirements and applications, producers may visit a local FSA county office or the FSA website at http://disaster.fsa.usda.gov. For information on Presidential Disaster Declaration, please visit http://www.disasterassistance.gov/.
USDA has made a concerted effort to deliver results for the American people, even as USDA implements sequestration -- the across-the-board budget reductions mandated under terms of the Budget Control Act. USDA has already undertaken historic efforts since 2009 to save more than $700 million in taxpayer funds through targeted, common-sense budget reductions. These reductions have put USDA in a better position to carry out its mission, while implementing sequester budget reductions in a fair manner that causes as little disruption as possible. The Obama Administration, with Agriculture Secretary Vilsack's leadership, has worked tirelessly to strengthen rural America, maintain a strong farm safety net, and create opportunities for America's farmers and ranchers. U.S. agriculture is currently experiencing one of its most productive periods in American history thanks to the productivity, resiliency, and resourcefulness of our producers. A strong farm safety net is important to sustain the success of American agriculture. USDA's crop insurance program currently insures 264 million acres, 1.14 million policies, and $110 billion worth of liability on about 500,000 farms. In response to tighter financial markets, USDA has expanded the availability of farm credit, helping struggling farmers refinance loans. Since 2009, USDA has provided more than 128,000 loans to family farmers totaling more than $18 billion. Over 50 percent of the loans went to beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.