November 04, 2011

Schumer & Gillibrand Fight to Prevent Cuts to Disaster Relief Funding

House-Senate Conference Committee Currently Reconciling Bill That Includes $3.176 Billion In Disaster Aid Funding - Senators Call on Committee Conferees To Preserve Full Disaster Funding

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand urged the members of the House-Senate Conference Committee to include the $3.176 billion for disaster relief in the Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, and Science, and Transportation and Housing and Urban Development Appropriations Bill that passed the full Senate earlier this week. New York State is still recovering from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee this summer. The Senate version of the legislation includes $500 million for the Economic Development Administration, $1.9 billion for the Federal Highways Administration Emergency Relief program, $400 million for Community Development Block Grants and $376 million for three programs within the Department of Agriculture.

“The back-to-back storms packed a powerful one-two-punch, leaving devastation in their wake,” said Schumer. “As we continue on the long road towards recovery and rebuilding, it’s absolutely essential that the federal government helps homeowners, businesses, and farmers across the state get the assistance they need. As I’ve traveled throughout the Capital Region, Central New York, the North Country, Southern Tier and Hudson Valley the message has been the same: we’re going to come back, but we need federal help to do it. Congress needs to do what we have done each time our country has suffered a disaster, and step up to the plate to deliver the assistance that will help our communities get back on their feet.”

“Hurricane Irene and Tropical Strom Lee had a devastating impact on communities across New York State,” said Senator Gillibrand. “This funding would be a step forward to ensuring federal assistance to help our families, farmers, businesses and communities recover. America has always stood by those suffering from disaster and helped them to rebuild. We have an obligation to help these families rebuild today.” 

In October, the Gillibrand-Schumer Amendment passed the Senate, which would invest an additional $110 million for a total of $327 million to support the Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) and the Emergency Watershed Program (EWP) that provide emergency services and resources for agricultural communities following natural disasters. Nearly $40 million of this funding would go to New York to help farmers rebuild.

$127 Million For Emergency Conservation Program (ECP)

The ECP is coordinated through the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) to provide emergency funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to repair farmland damaged by natural disasters, and to carry out emergency water conservation measures during severe drought. Conservation practices include removing debris, restoring fences and conservation structures, and providing water for livestock.

For land to be eligible for ECP resources, the natural disaster must create new conservation problems that if left untreated would impair or endanger the land, materially affect the land’s productive capacity, represent unusual damage, and be so costly to repair that federal assistance is or will be required to return the land to productive agricultural use.

ECP program participants receive cost-share assistance of up to 75 percent of the cost to implement approved conservation practices determined by county FSA committees. Individual or cumulative requests for cost-sharing of $50,000 or less per person, per disaster are approved at the county committee level, $50,001 to $100,000 is approved at the state level, and over $100,000 is approved at the federal level. Technical assistance may be provided by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

$200 Million For Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP)

The EWP was established to help conserve natural resources following natural disasters by relieving imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, drought, windstorms and other severe weather. The EWP responds to hazards including debris-clogged streams and channels, undermined and unstable stream banks, jeopardized water control structures and public infrastructure, wind-borne debris removal, and damaged upland sites stripped of protective vegetation by fire or drought.

Protection efforts can include purchasing floodplain easements to restore, protect, maintain and enhance the floodplain, including wetlands and riparian areas. It can also conserve natural values, including fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, flood water retention and groundwater recharge, and safeguard lives and property from floods, drought and erosion.

NRCS may bear up to 75 percent of the construction cost of emergency measures. The remaining costs must come from local sources, and can be in the form of cash or in-kind services. Public and private landowners are eligible for assistance but must be represented by a project sponsor, such as the state, local government, or conservation district.

All EWP work must reduce the threat to life and property, be economically, environmentally and socially defensible, and come from a sound technical standpoint.

 

$1.9 Billion for Federal Highways Administration Emergency Relief Program

The Federal Highway Administration’s Emergency Relief program provides funding for the repair of federal-aid highways or roads on federal lands that have been seriously damaged by natural disasters. Funding can be used for such purposes as establishing emergency detours, removing debris, providing temporary bridges or ferry service, regarding roadway embankments and surfaces, restoring pavement surfaces, reconstructing damaged bridges, and replacing signs, guardrails, fences, and other highway infrastructure.

 

$400 Million For Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would specifically use this funding for disaster recovery. HUD gives states and localities the flexibility to meet a variety of needs, from assisting individual homeowners and business owners, to buying out properties to make way for more robust flood protection in the future, to developing infrastructure to rebuild homes and business zones away from flood danger. 

 

$500 Million For Economic Development Administration (EDA)

EDA would use this funding to provide financial resources and technical assistance to help rebuild economic development plans following a disaster and grants to build new infrastructure (e.g. business incubators, technology parks, research facilities, basic utilities such as water treatment) that foster economic development to retain or attract jobs to the region.