SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — A team of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employees is aiding recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands following hurricanes Irma and Maria. Staff members with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and other USDA agencies are assessing damage and providing information to rural communities and agricultural producers on assistance opportunities through USDA.
“When it comes to natural resources, USDA is here to help people first and deal with paperwork second,” said NRCS Acting Chief Leonard Jordan. “USDA offers a variety of programs that can help communities rebuild vital infrastructure and help producers rebuild their lives.”
This team enables USDA to have representatives at agriculture-related regional meetings as well as other local meetings and to respond to inquiries from local officials and producers.
Assistance for Communities
Sixteen NRCS employees from seven state offices, national headquarters and soil survey offices are supporting USDA’s staff on the islands, working closely with local officials to provide information on USDA programs, such as the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) Program. This program can help communities restore damaged and destroyed infrastructure. Through the program, NRCS works with local government entities in impacted areas to remove debris, stabilize streambanks and fix water control structures, among other practices.
NRCS staff are coordinating with local state partners to complete damage assessments in preparation for sponsor assistance requests. Requests for assistance must be made within 60 days of the storm event.
Assistance for Agricultural Producers
Agricultural producers are eligible for both technical and financial assistance to help with practices to rebuild agricultural operations. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is one of several assistance programs available through USDA.
Through EQIP, NRCS provides technical assistance and funding to help producers plan and implement conservation practices to control erosion, manage storm water runoff and re-establish protective cover, including land damaged by flooding and severe rain events. NRCS accepts applications for EQIP on an ongoing basis.
Additionally, USDA has set up a 24-hour bilingual hotline for producers to call for information on programs. The hotline has directed producers to USDA programs and other resources available.
“Bottom line, we’re here to help,” Jordan said. “USDA’s staff of experts across the nation are ready to help you and your community recover from the storm.”
NRCS recommends community leaders and producers interested in assistance to visit their local USDA service center or call the recovery hotline at 787-303-0341.
Other USDA Assistance
Producers seeking emergency assistance are also encouraged to reach out to USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) personnel, which will assist in completing applications for a wide range of FSA disaster recovery programs including the newly announced Dairy Assistance Program for Puerto Rico, which is intended to help dairy owners provide feed to dairy herds during the hurricane recovery period.
Producers with crop insurance coverage administered by USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) should contact the Corporacion de Seguros Agricolas (CSA) for issues regarding filing claims. Those who purchased crop insurance will be paid for covered losses. RMA has a reinsurance agreement in place with the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico to offer crop insurance on a variety of crops and plantations (plants) for producers through CSA. RMA has been in frequent communication with CSA to ensure that producers in Puerto Rico will get paid for losses in a timely manner.
For information on other USDA disaster recovery programs, visit usda.gov/topic/disasters.
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