In a Monday, Sept. 21 news release, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reminded communities, farmers and ranchers, families and small businesses in the path of Tropical Storm Beta that the USDA has programs that provide assistance in the wake of disasters.
The USDA said staff in the regional, state and county offices are ready to help.
The USDA said it partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other disaster-focused organizations and created the Disaster Resource Center. This central source of information uses a searchable knowledge base of disaster-related resources powered by agents with subject matter expertise. The Disaster Resource Center and web tool now provide an easy access point to find USDA disaster information and assistance.
Steps to follow to prepare for a possible weather emergency
Severe weather forecasts often present the possibility of power outages that could compromise the safety of stored food. The USDA encourages those in the path of the storm to take the following precautions:
• Store food on shelves that will be safely out of the way of contaminated water in case of flooding;
• Place appliance thermometers in both the refrigerator and the freezer to ensure temperatures remain food safe during a power outage. Safe temperatures are 40°F or below in the refrigerator, 0°F or below in the freezer;
• Freeze water in small plastic storage bags or containers prior to a storm. These containers are small enough to fit around the food in the refrigerator and freezer to help keep food cold;
• Freeze refrigerated items, such as leftovers, milk and fresh meat and poultry that you may not need immediately—this helps keep them at a safe temperature longer;
• Consider getting 50 pounds of dry or block ice if a lengthy power outage is possible. This amount of ice should keep a fully-stocked 18-cubic-feet freezer cold for two days;
• Group foods together in the freezer—this ‘igloo’ effect helps the food stay cold longer;
• Keep a few days’ worth of ready-to-eat foods that do not require cooking or cooling.
Protecting livestock during a disaster
The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) is urging everyone in the potential path of the storm to prepare now – not just for yourselves, but also for your pets and your livestock.
• Plan for evacuation – know how you will evacuate and where you will go. If it is not feasible to evacuate your livestock, be sure to provide a strong shelter and adequate food and water that will last them until you can return.
• If you are planning to move livestock out of state, make sure to contact the State Veterinarian’s Office in the receiving state before you move any animals. You also may contact APHIS Veterinary Services state offices for information and assistance about protecting and moving livestock.
• Listen to emergency officials and evacuate if asked to do so.
The USDA also developed a disaster assistance discovery tool specifically targeted to rural and agricultural issues. The tool walks producers through five questions that generate personalized results identifying which the USDA disaster assistance programs can help them recover from a natural disaster.
The USDA also encourages residents and small businesses in impact zones to contact the USDA offices which meet their individual needs.
Owners of meat and poultry producing businesses who have questions or concerns may contact the FSIS Small Plant Help Desk online 24 hours a day, by phone at 1-877-FSIS-HELP (1-877-374-7435) and by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Helping producers weather financial impacts of disasters
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.
Livestock, honeybee and farm-raised fish producers whose mechanically harvested or purchased livestock feed was physically damaged or destroyed; or who lost grazing acres or beehives due to an extreme weather event may qualify for assistance. Producers of non-insurable crops who suffer crop losses, lower yields or are prevented from planting agricultural commodities may be eligible for assistance under the USDA’s Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program if the losses were due to natural disasters.
Helping operations recover after disasters
The USDA also can provide financial resources through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help with immediate needs and long-term support to help recover from natural disasters and conserve water resources. Assistance may also be available for emergency animal mortality disposal from natural disasters and other causes.
Farmers and ranchers needing to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters can apply for assistance through the USDA’s Emergency Conservation Program. The 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 (PDF, 257 KB). For declared natural disasters that lead to imminent threats to life and property, the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) 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 the Emergency Watershed Protection Program.
Orchardists and nursery tree growers may be eligible for assistance through the USDA’s Tree Assistance Program to help replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.
When major disasters strike, the USDA has an emergency loan program that provides eligible farmers low-interest loans to help them recover from production and physical losses. The USDA’s emergency loan program is triggered when a natural disaster is designated by the Secretary of Agriculture or a natural disaster or emergency is declared by the president under the Stafford Act. The USDA also offers additional programs tailored to the needs of specific agricultural sectors to help producers weather the financial impacts of major disasters and rebuild their operations.
Helping individuals recover after disasters
In the aftermath of a disaster, the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) works with state, local and nongovernmental organizations to provide emergency nutrition assistance – including food packages and infant formula – to households, shelters and mass feeding sites serving people in need. Upon request from states, the agency also provides emergency flexibilities in the administration of its nutrition assistance programs. In recent weeks, the agency has allowed the purchase of hot foods with SNAP benefits in California, Louisiana, and Iowa, and has provided automatic replacement of benefits due to food loss in California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, and Texas. In some circumstances, the agency also works with local authorities to provide Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) benefits, as it has in Louisiana and Iowa, for individuals and families who do not normally receive SNAP benefits. Once the disaster recovery efforts begin, emergency nutrition assistance and flexibilities requested by states and approved by FNS will be posted to the FNS Disaster Assistance website.
USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture provides support for disaster education through the Extension Disaster Education Network (EDEN). EDEN is a collaborative multi-state effort with land-grant universities and Cooperative Extension Services across the country, using research-based education and resources to improve the delivery of services to citizens affected by disasters. EDEN’s goal is to improve the nation’s ability to mitigate, prepare for, prevent, respond to and recover from disasters. EDEN equips county-based extension educators to share research-based resources in local disaster management and recovery efforts. The EDEN website offers a searchable database of extension professionals, resources, member universities and disaster agency websites to help people deal with a wide range of hazards, and food and agricultural defense educational resources.