Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns today announced that USDA has deployed personnel and resources to assist the efforts by federal, state and local authorities in response to Hurricane Katrina.
"Our thoughts and prayers go out to all who have suffered losses caused by Hurricane Katrina," said Johanns. "More than two thousand USDA personnel are working to provide food and water, emergency housing, electrical power, and other emergency services in the region. We are closely coordinating with other federal departments to meet the immediate and long-term needs of those affected by Katrina. We stand ready to begin assessing rural and agricultural infrastructure damage once the human need has been met."
Thus far, USDA has mobilized the following resources:
Personnel Assistance - USDA has deployed 1,800 Forest Service employees who are trained to respond to large-scale incidents, in coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These teams have expertise in setting up logistics staging areas, distribution of food products and debris removal. Additionally, USDA personnel who work in the areas of Food and Nutrition and Rural Development are involved with life saving and life sustaining efforts. USDA also stands ready with volunteers willing to participate in the Department of Homeland Security's community outreach efforts.
Food Assistance - USDA has delivered eighty thousand pounds of food and infant formula products. Truckloads of additional supplies are en route to affected communities. In addition to providing food and infant formula, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service is assisting disaster survivors by issuing emergency food stamps and distributing food packages directly to needy households. USDA will provide waivers to food stamp recipients so that they can purchase hot meals and expedite delivery of September food stamp benefits. USDA is also permitting schools to provide free meals to children in areas devastated by the hurricane. USDA is also reaching out to food and nutrition program recipients who have fled the affected area but are still in need of assistance.
Food Safety - USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service is providing information about how to keep food safe during power outages. Immediately prior to Hurricane Katrina making landfall, USDA issued public advisories throughout the affected region and this education effort is continuing. Consumers can call the toll-free USDA Meat and Poultry Hotline 24 hours a day at 1-888-MPHotline (1-888-674-6854); for the hearing-impaired (TTY) 1-800-256-7072.
Housing Assistance - USDA Rural Development has identified nearly 800 single family homes and apartments to accommodate displaced residents. Personnel are also prepared to assist in minimizing potential delinquency or liquidation of assets in affected areas. There are 50,000 low-income residents in the affected areas who have mortgages through USDA. They are being notified by letter, radio and other means of the availability of a six-month moratorium on payments to help to reduce financial hardship.
Farmer and Rancher Assistance: In response to Hurricane Katrina, USDA State (and County) Emergency Boards met this week to coordinate agricultural-related responses at the county, state and national levels in Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi.
The Boards will coordinate damage assessments to area crops, livestock and other agriculture-related operations. USDA State (and County) Emergency Boards are responsible for assessing agricultural damages incurred in a state due to disasters. USDA has several disaster programs for qualified farm operators, including low-interest emergency loans, the Emergency Conservation Program and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.
Additional information and updates about USDA's hurricane relief efforts are posted daily on the Web site at http://www.usda.gov/. For more information about making contributions for disaster assistance go to www.FirstGov.gov and http://www.disasterassistance.gov/