Congress adds funding to help farmers recover

U.S. Department of Agriculture natural disaster assistance programs once scheduled for elimination w

U.S. Department of Agriculture natural disaster assistance programs once scheduled for elimination will be restored and may help upstate New York farmers recovering from tropical storms Irene and Lee.

With the bipartisan backing of both Capital Region congressmen, $338 million in disaster assistance was added to the fiscal 2012 federal spending bill that a House and Senate conference committee in Washington approved late Monday night.

Nationwide, there will be $122.7 million for the USDA’s Emergency Conservation Program and $215.9 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. About $40 million of the aid is expected to come to New York farmers, with a large share going to the Schoharie Valley.

“It’s not a panacea, but it’s a huge step forward,” U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, said Tuesday.

The money could help some of the farmers in the Schoharie and Mohawk valleys who suffered devastating losses from the two tropical storms, which hit the region a week apart in late August and early September. Crops, land and livestock were lost.

“The impact to the naked eye was overwhelmingly strong,” said Tonko, who has toured the Schoharie Valley several times since the disaster. “Fields were covered with debris. Debris was all over the area.”

U.S. Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, has also lobbied hard for the funding, meeting with House Speaker John Boehner and others to press his case, said spokeswoman Stephanie Valle.

Last spring, the two agricultural disaster assistance programs were slated for elimination in the original House budget. With the money now available, Gibson — whose district includes hard-hit areas of Greene, Rensselaer and Essex counties — will be working to get the money into farmers’ hands, Valle said.

“He’s talking to the Department of Agriculture about getting the money out as quickly as possible, maybe even by the end of the calendar year,” she said.

The Emergency Conservation Program provides emergency funding and technical assistance for farmers to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters or threatened by severe drought. The Emergency Watershed Protection Program is designed to help communities address imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods and other natural disasters.

Money can be used to remove debris from stream channels, repair road culverts and bridges, reshape and protect eroded stream banks, correct damaged drainage facilities and make other repairs, Tonko said. “Our fight to recover from these natural disasters is far from over, but this is a positive step in the right direction,” he said.

The compromise spending levels will be considered by the full House of Representatives and Senate later this week, but the committee recommendations mean they are likely to be passed and signed into law by President Obama.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Kentucky, said the funding is justified, even in a year when Congress is trying to fund budget cuts.

“Numerous major natural disasters this year have cost states and communities billions — requiring historic levels of relief and recovery assistance. Federal agencies are receiving relief requests from nearly every state, and it is critical that Congress provide necessary funds to help families, businesses and communities recover from these devastating disasters,” he said in a statement.

“These funds will be used solely for recovery related to natural disasters and catastrophes and will not grow the underlying budget or size of these agencies,” he said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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