Speaking in Nebraska at the opening session of the first of four regional workshops to outline resources available to assist with drought recovery efforts, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the lack of a new five-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill has the potential to delay and stifle the federal response.
"USDA is doing all we can, but key programs traditionally made available in times of disaster are in limbo because Congress has allowed our authority to deliver them to expire," said Vilsack. "As I travel the country, it is clear to me that farmers and ranchers are aware of the gravity of the situation, and the need for Congress to act."
Vilsack indicated that President Obama had directed federal agencies to take every possible step to help farmers and ranchers, businesses, and rural communities recover as a result of one of the country's worst droughts in decades. USDA is working with local, state and federal partners to hold the workshops, working closely with the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to facilitate these meetings.
"The U.S. Commerce Department's Economic Development Administration, with its decades of experience helping regions stricken by natural disasters, will play an important role in this multiagency Obama administration effort to partner with the farmers, ranchers, small businesses, and rural areas that have been impacted by the droughts to help get them on a path to economic recovery," said Matt Erskine, Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development. "The regional drought recovery meetings are timely and offer a great opportunity to provide detailed information on existing federal resources to support local initiatives and identify strategies for long-term solutions."
The next meeting will be at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo on October 15th to be followed by meetings in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on October 17th and in Ohio during the week of October 22nd.
Other drought response efforts have included: National Credit Union Administration's increased capacity for lending to customers including farmers; the U.S. Department of Transportation's emergency waivers for federal truck weight regulations and hours of service requirements to get help to drought-stricken communities; increased outreach and emergency lending by the Small Business Administration; and more.
As of Oct. 2, 2012, USDA has designated all or parts of 39 states as natural disaster areas this year. USDA continues to encourage any farmer or rancher with questions to contact a USDA Service Center office, because even with limited legal authority, USDA has worked hard to offer tools to help.