Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack participated in the kickoff of four regional workshops on drought recovery, the first of which was held Tuesday in Omaha, Nebraska. More than 200 people gathered in Omaha to discuss ways to access existing resources and to offer ideas on new efforts to assist those impacted by drought.
The Secretary said that President Obama has directed federal agencies to take every possible step to help farmers and ranchers, businesses, and rural communities through recovery. As a result, USDA is partnering with local, state and federal partners to hold the workshops, working closely with the Department of Commerce, the Small Business Administration and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to facilitate the meetings. At the same time, said Vilsack, the lack of a new five-year Food, Farm and Jobs Bill has the potential to delay and stifle the federal response.
Two-thirds of the U.S. is affected by the drought. As of October 2, 2012, USDA has designated all or part of 39 states as natural disaster areas.
The workshop in Nebraska was sponsored by the University of Nebraska Lincoln Extension, the National Association of Counties and the Mayor of Omaha. Deputy Assistant Secretary Thomas Guevara for regional affairs at the Economic Development Administration participated in the plenary session.
The next meeting will be at the Colorado State Fairgrounds in Pueblo on October 15th to be followed by meetings in Pine Bluff, Arkansas on October 17th and in Ohio during the week of October 22nd.
At the direction of the President, Secretary Vilsack is helping coordinate an Administration-wide response that has included: the National Credit Union Administration’s increased capacity for lending to customers including farmers; the U.S. Department of Transportation’s emergency waivers for federal truck weight regulations and hours of service requirements to get help to drought-stricken communities; increased outreach and emergency lending by the Small Business Administration; and more.
USDA continues to encourage any farmer or rancher with questions to contact a USDA Service Center office, because even with limited legal authority, USDA has worked hard to offer tools to help. For more information, visit www.usda.gov/drought.