Today, senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and representatives Brian Higgins and Chris Collins announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has approved primary and contiguous disaster designations for seven Western New York counties, due to losses caused by excessive snow, flooding, freeze, and high winds that occurred Nov. 17-24. The Secretarial natural disaster declaration will apply for the following counties: Genesee, Erie, Livingston, Monroe, Niagara, Orleans and Wyoming.
Last month, following the storm, Schumer, Gillibrand, Higgins and Collins urged the USDA to assess damage and be ready to issue this declaration so that emergency loans could be made available to the farmers, flower growers, and local producers that suffered as a result of the historic November snowstorm. The lawmakers said that USDA assistance is available to farmers who experience severe crop, livestock and business loss.
“After weathering several days of brutal weather and record-high snowfall, the USDA’s decision to provide emergency disaster assistance to farmers and growers across seven Western New York counties is welcome news. I visited many communities and saw the damage the snow caused firsthand. Thankfully, this disaster declaration means our Upstate farmers and growers will have access to critical emergency loans and more, at a time when they need it the most,” Senator Schumer said. “I applaud the U.S. Department of Agriculture for swiftly assessing the damage to farms, flower growers, vineyards, wineries and orchards throughout the region following the historic snowfall in November, and coming through with disaster designation.”
Senator Gillibrand, the first New York senator to serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, said:
"I saw firsthand the severe losses Western New York’s agriculture community faced after last month’s unprecedented snowfall. The stories I heard were powerful. This declaration will enable those who lost greenhouses, barns, processing facilities, harvesting equipment, animals, trees, vines and crops to access resources that will help them as they recover and begin planning for a new growing season. I thank Secretary Vilsack and the dedicated staff of the Farm Service Agency who worked so hard to make sure the voices of our farmers were heard and that this much-needed aid is being made available."
Congressman Higgins: “Farm communities in Western New York were hit hard by the November snowstorm, and the federal government has an obligation to respond. This disaster caused loss of crops and business impacting the livelihood of local farmers. We applaud the USDA’s willingness to provide much needed relief to those struggling to recover from damages caused by the storm.”
Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27): “Western New York's agriculture community took a huge hit during the historic November snowstorm and our local farmers and growers need help. I am pleased that our bipartisan push worked and the USDA is taking action necessary to provide needed disaster assistance.”
The senators and congressmen explained that this Secretarial disaster designation will make farm operators eligible to be considered for Farm Service Agency (FSA) emergency loans. Farmers in the eligible counties will have eight months from the date of the Secretarial disaster declaration to apply for such emergency loans.
The programs available with a USDA disaster declaration are as follows:
· Emergency Farm Loans -- low interest loans;
· Disaster Set-Aside Program -- borrowers located in designated disaster areas or contiguous counties who are unable to make their scheduled payment on any FSA debt can set aside one payment after a disaster.
Additionally, the following programs are available through the USDA without a disaster declaration:
· Tree Assistance Program (TAP) -- provides financial assistance to qualifying orchardists and nursery tree growers to replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters;
· Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) -- provides benefits to livestock producers for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather;
· Forest Restoration Program (FRP) -- helps the owners of non-industrial private forests restore forest health damaged by natural disasters;
· Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, & Farm-raised Fish (ELAP) -- provides emergency relief to producers of livestock, honey bees, and farm-raised fish from other natural disasters that are not adequately covered by any other disaster program.
In their letter to Secretary Vilsack last month, Schumer, Gillibrand, Collins and Higgins wrote: “We urge USDA to dedicate all available resources to complete a damage survey in the most timely manner to assess the need for a USDA disaster declaration to prevent the delay of any needed emergency relief. Additionally, we request that FSA field officers work with farmers to help them accurately document losses, which will enable them to apply for USDA disaster programs.”