November 21, 2014

Schumer, Gillibrand, Higgins, Collins Urge USDA To Immediately Conduct Damage Assessment Of Impact Of Historic Snowstorm On WNY Farms – Urges USDA To Provide All Available Resources To Upstate Farmers Impacted By Devastating Snowfall

Schumer, Gillibrand, Higgins, Collins Write to USDA Urging Fed Agency To Assess the Damage & Be Ready To Act On a Disaster Declaration To Help Reimburse WNY Farmers, Flower Growers & Local Producers that Are Still In Midst Of Massive Snowstorm; USDA Funds Would Help Cover Crop, Livestock, Business Loss Costs

Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Representatives Brian Higgins and Chris Collins urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack provide an immediate assessment of the damage done to Western New York farms, as well as stand at the ready to swiftly approve any requests from Upstate New York farmers for federal USDA disaster assistance following the historic snow storm. County officials have said they expect the cost of this disaster to meet the criteria needed for federal support, and, if it does, Schumer, Gillibrand, Higgins and Collins said that New York State farmers who incurred loss due to the storm should be able to seek USDA disaster assistance. The lawmakers said that USDA assistance is available to farmers who experience severe crop, livestock and business loss. Schumer, Gillibrand, Higgins and Collins are requesting the USDA be ready to quickly assess the damage so that farmers may be quickly approved for any disaster funding in the impacted counties, including Erie, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, Genesee & Wyoming if they qualify.

“From shattered greenhouses to massive quantities of dumped milk that is trapped on inaccessible farms, it is critical that we get federal resources to farmers and growers in Western New York that experience crop, livestock and business loss as a result of this historic snow storm. That is why I have already called on the White House and FEMA and USDA to be ready to swiftly approve a federal disaster declaration the very moment it hits their desk, and to provide all forms of available aid for impacted communities. Having this federal disaster declaration will help Erie County and the other impacted Western New York farmers to request additional funding for loss as well, including the USDA. But we need the USDA to be at the ready to assess the damage and swiftly approve disaster assistance requests from farmers and growers in Western New York,” said Senator Schumer. “This snowstorm is beyond what anyone in Western New York has ever seen and we need every level of government to do all it can for the snow removal effort.”

“With more snow approaching and the potential for flooding over the weekend, it is critical that our Western New York communities get the resources they need to dig out and recover,” said Senator Gillibrand. “USDA and FEMA need to be ready to provide whatever is needed to help Erie County and the surrounding areas hit by heavy snow get back on their feet. I will continue to work to ensure that all possible resources are brought to bear to ensure a full recovery for all of our communities affected by this unprecedented storm.”

"The enormity of this storm is unimaginable even for Western New York whose resilience in difficult situations is like none other," said Congressman Brian Higgins. "People, businesses and farmers will dig out but it is going to take some help.  It will be important for the USDA see the roof collapses, devastation to farms built by generations of families, potential flooding and overwhelming barriers to recovery to truly understand what has happened and what is ahead of us."

“It is imperative all levels of government coordinate and do all they can to assist those in need, including our farmers and growers, during this historic weather event,” said Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27). “I strongly support this request to the USDA and urge them to be ready to swiftly assist those in Western New York impacted by this disaster.”

"The situation is dire for farms affected by the record snow fall.  The physical damage and the loss of animals’ lives  are devastating. This situation is compounded with the fact that dairy farmers are dumping milk and facing feed shortages due to transportation issues.  And others may lose out on profits due to the inability to complete their fall harvest. We appreciate the quick response from our Congressional delegation to help secure disaster assistance that may be needed to rebuild and recover,” said Dean Norton, New York Farm Bureau president.

In their letter, Schumer, Gillibrand, Collins and Higgins write: “We urge USDA to dedicate all available resources to complete a damage survey in the most timely manner to assess the need for a USDA disaster declaration to prevent the delay of any needed emergency relief. Additionally, we request that FSA field officers work with farmers to help them accurately document losses, which will enable them to apply for USDA disaster programs.”

Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We write on behalf of New York’s farmers and rural communities who are experiencing devastating losses caused by this year’s early extreme snowfall and ask that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) take immediate action to make all necessary resources available in the event of a Secretarial Disaster Declaration. Additionally, we request that USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) immediately works with farmers and local partners to assist them in navigating the available resources offered in the wake of a natural disaster, such as this most recent extreme snowfall.  

In some areas, as much as eight feet of snow has accumulated on farms across Western New York. This extreme snowfall has resulted in the collapse of barn roofs and greenhouses. Additionally, dairy farmers have been struggling with milk haulers not being able to access their farms due to impassable road conditions and this is forcing farmers to dump milk. Since this storm came early in the year, there is fear that temperatures will rise and snowmelt will cause flooding in the impacted area and additional damage.

As you know, the 2014 Farm Bill permanently reauthorized the Tree Assistance Program (TAP), Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), and Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, & Farm-raised Fish Program (ELAP). We encourage USDA to work expeditiously to both help farmers apply to these programs and process their claims. In the event of a Secretarial Disaster Declaration, farmers will be able to access low interest emergency USDA loans and have the possibility of enrolling in the Disaster Set-Aside Program to help farmers get through these tough times.  Since we anticipate that severe damage will be sustained, farmers will require the quick action of USDA to approve emergency disaster loans and disaster program applications to mitigate the cash flow problems that occur after losses due to inclement weather.

Again, we are asking that the USDA take action now to prepare all resources needed to quickly determine a disaster declaration and assist farmers and growers in readying the necessary documentation to report losses.  New York’s agricultural industry provides a livelihood for many and is the economic engine of our rural communities across the state. We appreciate your consideration of this important request. 

Sincerely,

U.S. Senator Charles E. Schumer

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand

Representative Brian Higgins

Representative Chris Collins