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DC lawmakers introduce legislation to help farmers after hurricane

September 7, 2011

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles E. Schumer, together with Congressmen Chris Gibson, Maurice Hinchey, Paul Tonko and Bill Owens, today introduced the Post-Irene Emergency Farm Aid Act, legislation to provide the resources that farmers across New York State need to help recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene. The legislation would authorize $10 million to support the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and the Emergency Watershed Program (EWP) that provide emergency services and resources for agricultural communities following natural disasters.

“America has always stood by those suffering from disaster and helped them to rebuild,” said Senator Gillibrand, New York’s first member of the Senate Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years. “New York’s farmland endured some of the worst of Hurricane Irene, and much of our farmland is badly damaged. When our farm families suffer, our whole state and whole economy suffers. We need to provide our agricultural communities with all the resources we need to dig out and rebuild from these devastating storms.”

“When tornados hit Missouri or Katrina hit New Orleans, Americans from across the country banded together to help individuals, business owners, and farmers get back on their feet,” said Schumer. “Irene drowned crops, killed livestock, and spoiled milk from the Hudson Valley through Schoharie on up to the North Country. This bill would help the federal government do its part and step up to the plate to provide relief for New York’s hardest hit farms. New York’s farmers can’t afford to wait – we need to move quickly to pass this legislation.”

Congressman Gibson said, “Family farms are the backbone our rural Upstate New York communities. They have suffered tremendous devastation as a result of Hurricane Irene, losing crops, livestock, and essential structures and equipment. Without federal support, many will not be able to repair and rebuild – thus, it is critical we ensure our agricultural disaster relief programs have the resources required to support the recovery process.”

“New York's farmers were badly hurt by Hurricane Irene,” said Hinchey. “We need to do everything we can to help them recover from crop and livestock losses, and other damage caused by the storm. These hard working men and women need our support now more than ever, and that's why this legislation is so critically important.”

“Irene had a devastating impact on our farms, ruining crops, killing livestock, damaging infrastructure, putting our local rural economies in peril,” said Congressman Tonko. “We need to do everything we can to provide the resources that will help our agriculture industry recover and rebuild. I will continue to stand with my colleagues to ensure the federal response meets the needs of our communities.”

“I have had the opportunity to tour local farms that have sustained damage from spring flooding -- and now Hurricane Irene – and I have seen firsthand the need for this emergency funding to get New York’s agricultural community back on its feet,” said Owens. “So much depends on New York farmers receiving the assistance they need to get back to the business of employing workers, growing crops, and contributing to the food security of our nation. I thank Senators Schumer and Gillibrand as well as my House colleagues Maurice Hinchey, Paul Tonko and Chris Gibson for their work on critical issue.”

Emergency Conservation Program
The ECP is coordinated through USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) to provide emergency funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to repair farmland damaged by natural disasters, and to carry out emergency water conservation measures during severe drought. Conservation practices include removing debris, restoring fences and conservation structures, and providing water for livestock.

For land to be eligible for ECP resources, the natural disaster must create new conservation programs that if left untreated would impair or endanger the land; materially affect the land’s productive capacity; represent unusual damage; and be so costly to repair that federal assistance is or will be required to return the land to productive agricultural use.

ECP program participants receive cost-share assistance of up to 75 percent of the cost to implement approved conservation practices determined by county FSA committees. Individual or cumulative requests for cost-sharing of $50,000 or less per person, per disaster are approved at the county committee level, $50,001 to $100,000 is approved at the state level, and over $100,000 is approved at the federal level. Technical assistance may be provided by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

Emergency Watershed Protection Program
The EWP was established to help conserve natural resources following natural disasters by relieving imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, drought, windstorms and other severe weather. The EWP responds to hazards including debris-clogged streams and channels, undermined and unstable stream banks, jeopardized water control structures and public infrastructure, wind-borne debris removal; and damaged upland sites stripped of protective vegetation by fire or drought.

Protection efforts can include purchasing floodplain easements to restore, protect, maintain and enhance the floodplain, including wetlands and riparian areas. It can also conserve natural values, including fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, flood water retention and groundwater recharge, and safeguard lives and property from floods, drought and erosion.

NRCS may bear up to 75 percent of the construction cost of emergency measures. The remaining costs must come from local sources, and can be in the form of cash or in-kind services. Public and private landowners are eligible for assistance but must be represented by a project sponsor, such as the state, local government, or conservation district.

All EWP work must reduce the threat to life and property, be economically, environmentally and socially defensible, and come from a sound technical standpoint.