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WASHINGTON, Sept. 16, 2020 - The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced the availability of assistance for residents and agricultural producers affected by recent wildfires.

As of today, wildfires have burned nearly 6.9 million acres across 11 states. More than 31,000 personnel from the local, state and federal levels are working to contain 61 large fires. The USDA Forest Service has more than 7,800 personnel committed to firefighting efforts along with airtankers, helicopters, and other air and ground firefighting resources.

Food waivers and flexibilities

On August 27, 2020, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) approved California’s waiver request to allow for the purchase of hot foods with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in select counties.

As many California residents are not able to store food or access cooking facilities, households in those counties can purchase hot foods with SNAP benefits through September 23, 2020.

On September 3, 2020, FNS also approved California’s request to issue automatic mass replacements of SNAP benefits to impacted households. This waiver allows households in certain counties and zip codes to receive replacement of 50% of their August SNAP benefits as a result of wildfires and power outages that began on August 17, 2020. For more information on either of these actions, contact the California Department of Social Services.

Helping producers weather financial impacts of disasters

When major disasters strike, USDA has an emergency loan program that provides eligible farmers low-interest loans to help them recover from production and physical losses. This program is triggered when a natural disaster is designated by the Secretary of Agriculture or a natural disaster or emergency is declared by the President under the Stafford Act. USDA also offers additional programs tailored to the needs of specific agricultural sectors to help producers weather the financial impacts of major disasters and rebuild their operations.

Livestock owners and contract growers who experience above normal livestock deaths due to specific weather events, as well as to disease or animal attacks, may qualify for assistance under USDA’s Livestock Indemnity Program.

Livestock producers who have suffered grazing losses due to a qualifying drought condition or fire on federally-managed land during the normal grazing period for a county may qualify for help through USDA’s Livestock Forage Disaster Program. Producers of non-insurable crops who suffer crop losses, lower yields or are prevented from planting agricultural commodities may be eligible for assistance under USDA's Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.

Helping operations recover after disasters

USDA can also provide financial resources through its Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help with immediate needs and long-term support to help recover from natural disasters and conserve water resources. Assistance may also be available for emergency animal mortality disposal from natural disasters and other causes.

Farmers and ranchers needing to rehabilitate farmland damaged by natural disasters can apply for assistance through USDA’s Emergency Conservation Program. USDA also has assistance available for eligible private forest landowners who need to restore forestland damaged by natural disasters through the Emergency Forest Restoration Program. USDA's Emergency Watershed Protection Program can also help relieve imminent threats to life and property caused by fires and other natural disasters that impair a watershed. Orchardists and nursery tree growers may be eligible for assistance through USDA’s Tree Assistance Program to help replant or rehabilitate eligible trees, bushes and vines damaged by natural disasters.

Producers with coverage through the Risk Management Agency (RMA) administered federal crop insurance program should contact their crop insurance agent for issues in filing claims. Those who purchased crop insurance will be paid for covered losses. Producers should report crop damage within 72 hours of discovering damage and follow up in writing within 15 days. The Approved Insurance Providers (AIP), loss adjusters and agents are experienced and well trained in handling these types of events. As part of its commitment to delivering excellent customer service, RMA is working closely with AIPs that sell and service crop insurance policies to ensure enough loss adjusters will be available to process claims in the affected areas as quickly as possible. Visit the RMA website for more details.

Helping with the long-term recovery of rural communities

USDA Rural Development has more than 50 programs available to rural and tribal communities for the rebuild, repair or modernization of rural infrastructure including drinking and waste water systems, solid waste management, electric infrastructure, and essential community facilities such as public safety stations, health care centers and hospitals, and educational facilities. Visit the USDA Rural Development website for more information on specific programs.

Visit USDA's disaster resources website to learn more about USDA disaster preparedness and response. For more information on USDA disaster assistance programs, contact your local USDA Service Center.

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Editor's Note

Check out Pets to Adopt. The High Desert Humane Society has some new cats and dogs up for adoption.

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