As Hurricane Florence approached, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to use all available authorities to ensure the security and safety of those in the path of the storm, and to aid victims in their recovery efforts. USDA staff in the regional, state and county offices are actively responding, providing emergency response staffing and a variety of program flexibilities and other assistance to residents, agricultural producers, and impacted communities at large.
“USDA is unwavering in its commitment to work on behalf of every community hit and ensure life-sustaining resources are available to our neighbors as they begin the hard work of rebuilding their lives and communities following these devastating storms,” Secretary Perdue said. “We are coordinating hour-by-hour and day-by-day with state and local governments, the private and non-profit sectors, and dozens of our federal sister agencies, to bring aid to everyone in need.”
Some of the many ways USDA and its component agencies are helping residents in North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia recover include:
Forest Service Evacuation and Rescue
USDA’s Forest Service staff coordinated with FEMA’s National Response Coordination Center and North Carolina and South Carolina State Emergency Operation Centers to find the right equipment, people and resources needed for any response efforts. This cooperation led to the assisted evacuation of 124 residents in the Cedar Creek Care Center, and evacuations and rescues around the Cape Fear River.
APHIS Responding to Animal Emergencies and Clearing Red Tape
When disaster strikes and upon request, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) can provide assistance using boats and other equipment. Inspectors are coordinating closely with zoos, breeders, and other licensed facilities in the region to ensure the safety of animals in their care and checking local regulated facilities in the storm path to assess damage and ensure the welfare of those animals.
APHIS is also cutting red tape by working closely with Customs and Border Protection to issue agricultural products entry permits while the ports of Wilmington/Morehead City, North Carolina remain closed. Shipments are being allowed to arrive at alternate ports without amending the permits.
Food and Nutrition Service Provides Nutrition Assistance
USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has been coordinating with state, local and voluntary organizations to provide food for shelters and other mass feeding sites. All students in disaster-impacted areas will receive free school meals through October 26, thanks to flexibilities through the National School Lunch Program. Other flexibilities approved by USDA include:
- Allowed schools and other facilities to provide meals through USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program by designating them as emergency shelters.
- Allowed schools and food banks to operate under relaxed meal standards and congregate feeding requirements.
- Streamlined child nutrition program administration through October 19 by allowing meals that vary from menu planning and meal pattern requirements for schools and facilities in disaster areas.
- Approved a waiver allowing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants in North Carolina to buy hot foods with their benefits through October 31, 2018. Under normal circumstances, foods that are hot at the point of sale cannot be purchased using SNAP benefits.
- Extended the deadline for SNAP participants in both North Carolina and South Carolina to submit food loss claims from the disaster until October 15, so they can replace food lost in the storm.
- Extended the certification periods and waived periodic reporting requirements for ongoing SNAP households in 18 North Carolina counties due to the impact of Hurricane Florence.
- Waived certain Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition education requirements in disaster-impacted areas and replaced September food benefits that were damaged or lost during the hurricane.
- Approved flexibilities allowing North Carolina to issue benefits remotely.
As flood waters recede and residents make it back into their homes, USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is helping ensure they are taking the proper steps to reduce the risk of foodborne illness. Food safety tips after a power outage and flooding are available on the FSIS website.
Farm Production and Conservation Agencies Helping Producers Weather Financial Impacts
President Trump’s disaster declarations for North Carolina and South Carolina means eligible producers in those states can take advantage of a USDA emergency loan program. These low-interest loans help farmers and ranchers recover from production and physical losses. USDA also offers additional programs tailored to the needs of specific agricultural sectors to help producers rebuild their operations.
USDA, through its new website Farmers.gov, recently launched a disaster assistance discovery tool that walks producers through five questions to help them identify personalized results of which USDA disaster assistance programs can help them recover after a natural disaster.
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. Producers who suffer losses to or are preventing from planting agricultural commodities not covered by federal crop insurance may be eligible for assistance under USDA's Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program if the losses were due to natural disasters.
Helping Operations Recover
Farmers and ranchers that suffered damage to working lands and livestock mortality due to Hurricane Florence are encouraged to contact their local USDA Service Center. USDA has multiple programs to help producers manage their operations:
Farmers and ranchers needing to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters can apply for assistance through USDA’s Emergency Conservation Program. 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. USDA's Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWPP) also can help relieve imminent threats to life and property caused by flood, fires and other natural disasters that impair a watershed.
NRCS offices in North Carolina and South Carolina are accepting applications for assistance through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). Farmers and ranchers that suffered damage to working lands and livestock mortality because of the hurricane are encouraged to contact their local NRCS office. EQIP can also aid in repair and mitigate loss in future disasters. Conservation practices such as obstruction removal, land clearing and snagging, land smoothing and repair of access roads may be implemented to address resource concerns caused by flooding. Also, during declared natural disasters that lead to imminent threats to life and property, 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 EWPP.
Orchardists and nursery tree growers may be eligible for assistance through USDA’s Tree Assistance Program to help replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes, and vines damaged by natural disasters.
USDA's Office of Rural Development is helping businesses and utilities that are current USDA borrowers by considering requests to defer principal and/or interest payments, and to provide additional temporary loans. Current USDA single-family home loan customers may also qualify for assistance. Borrowers can contact their local Rural Development office to obtain information on potential assistance. Additional information may be found on the Rural Development website.
Producers with coverage through the Risk Management Agency (RMA) administered Federal crop insurance program should contact their crop insurance agent for issues regarding filing claims. Those who purchased crop insurance will be paid for covered losses. Producers should report crop damage within 72 hours of damage discovery and follow up in writing within 15 days. The Approved Insurance Providers (AIP), loss adjusters and agents are experienced and well trained in handling these types of events. As part of its commitment to customer service, RMA is working closely with AIPs that sell and service crop insurance policies to ensure enough loss adjusters will be available to process claims in the affected areas as quickly as possible. Please visit the RMA website for additional details.
Information provided by USDA.