Against the backdrop of a crippled farm in Schoharie County, Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday announced an initial $15 million commitment to farmers in the state whose livelihoods were ravaged by Hurricane Irene.
“We’ve been focusing the first few days on the immediate aftermath to the emergency,” Cuomo said. “Getting roads open so people and goods can move around ... and today we’re focusing on agriculture and farms, which paid a tremendous price for this disaster.”
“It’s going to be a start,” Cuomo said, stressing that the long-term fixes will require hundreds of millions of dollars.
“You have farmers who need help today, literally feeding animals,” he said. “They have bills to pay, they have loans, and they need money today.”
This state aid will go for an agricultural and community recovery fund and will help rebuild farmland and buildings and repair stream channels, among other needs.
The plight of the farmers was voiced by Denise Lloyd, of Maple Down Farms II in Middleburgh, who questioned U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack about how farmers without crop insurance can recover. She and her husband, David, had chosen not to purchase crop insurance and after the storm they lost 40 head of cattle, their stored crop and potentially 200 acres of corn.
David Lloyd said they were expecting a bumper crop this season, but now a large percentage of that has been flattened and the rest could be covered by debris. He said they had never purchased crop insurance because it never made economic sense, since the risk seemed nonexistent.
Vilsack said the government is making emergency low-interest loans available to bridge the upcoming days and said that the next step would be for Congress to create some sort of relief package, no matter what the cost.
“Sadly, many, many farmers ... have not been able to purchase insurance and felt that it wasn’t in their best financial interest to do so,” Vilsack said. “They need help.”
He added that there can’t be any strings attached to the aid, such as linking it to spending cuts in other areas, which has been suggested by members of the Republican Congressional Caucus.
“These people do not have time to wait,” he said.
This message was echoed by Rep. Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook, who said there will be a time for bookkeeping in the future. Aside from $11 billion available for relief efforts, which Gibson said was available after the passage of the Budget Control Act, he also stressed that this should be a priority over other expenditures, like increases to defense spending and foreign aid.
The response to the storm also could include a fall session of the state Legislature, according to Assemblyman Peter Lopez, R-Schoharie. He said they could address the holes in the social safety net that farmers in the state are falling through and maybe relax or delay the recently created property tax cap to fund repairs. “In the fall there may be something we need to do immediately,” Lopez said.
He added that the governor’s Regional Economic Development Councils could also be a source of funding for efforts to restore battered communities. He advocated spending the entire $1 billion supposedly available through the councils toward keeping existing businesses in the state.
“What we’re afraid of now is a mass exodus from this devastated region, where people close their doors, bulldoze their houses or businesses and never come back,” he said. “We don’t want to live in a ghost town.”
A major fear that was underlying the event on Saturday morning was the threat posed to the area by a few inches of rain on land that is already near saturation. Larry VanAller, owner of the farm in Middleburgh where the officials had gathered, and local officials stressed that preventive measures had to be taken or else the recovery efforts would be wasted.
“A couple more inches and it could happen all over again,” VanAller said.
Concerns about rain could be realized today, with the National Weather Service citing an increasing chance of thunderstorms this afternoon. The more pressing danger could come on Labor Day and Tuesday, with more widespread heavy rain. The weather service said there could be 3 inches or more, with renewed flooding possible after only an inch or two.
According to a release from Schoharie County, people across the state have already begun donating feed and equipment. Farmers trying to access donated resources or any businesses looking to donate may call 634-7852.