USDA announces assistance to rural communities, residents in Kentucky affected by recent tornadoes

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By Special to The Banner

Lexington, KY - Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced on March 15 comprehensive outreach efforts are underway to assess damage and assist rural Midwest and Southern communities in the wake of recent deadly storms.

“These storms struck the very heart of rural America,” said Vilsack. “USDA regional and local staff members are on the front lines, have worked each day since the storms hit, and for many it’s personal: they live and work alongside the victims. I’ve directed our expertise and resources be put to the fullest possible use.”

The incident is now predicted to be the first billion-dollar disaster of 2012. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s current count of confirmed tornadoes from the March 2 outbreak stands at 42, with damage reported in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and West Virginia.

After the disaster, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service approved Kentucky’s request to allow the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits to purchase hot food items from authorized SNAP retailers in all Kentucky counties that have received or will receive a Presidential Disaster Declaration that includes individual assistance. FNS approved disaster-related waiver requests to extend the timeframe for SNAP households to report food loss for affected counties in Kentucky.

The Farm Service Agency reminds producers in storm-damaged areas to document any losses or damage to their farm or their land in the event that funding becomes available which covers that loss.

FSA also provides funds through the Emergency Loan Program to help producers recover from production and physical losses due to natural disasters. Producers in these counties will be eligible for these loans if the county is declared a Presidential or Secretarial disaster county.

Emergency loan funds may be used to restore or replace essential property; pay all or part of production costs associated with the disaster year; pay essential family living expenses; reorganize the farming operation; and refinance certain debts.

The FSA Emergency Conservation Program provides emergency funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters and for carrying out emergency water conservation measures in periods of severe drought. Subject to the availability of funding, ECP can be used to assist with debris removal, fence repair and replacement, and repairing damaged farmland.

Producers affected by the disaster should contact their local FSA office as soon as possible to report their losses and damage.  Photographs should be taken of any damage, if work must be completed prior to reporting loss or damage to the FSA office.