Schumer, Gillibrand urge USDA to issue Ag Disaster Declaration

May 15, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, the first New York Senator to serve on the Agriculture Committee in nearly 40 years, wrote to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to urge the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to issue an agriculture disaster declaration for farmland in Yates County and surrounding counties damaged by heavy rain, wind, and flash flooding. Thunderstorms dumped an estimated five inches of rain in four hours causing flash flooding overnight in the Finger Lakes Village of Penn Yan, the Hamlet of Branchport, the Towns of Jerusalem and Porter, and other nearby areas. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand are urging the USDA to immediately approve disaster assistance so farmers across the affected region can gain prompt access to the aid they need to recover. They also pledged to work with state and local officials to expedite further declarations as more county data is made available to ensure that all impacted communities receive the assistance that they are eligible for. Local officials have reported the flooding has caused farm land erosion, likely crop loss, and damage to farm structures.

“The USDA federal aid we deliver for our hard working family farmers should arrive just as quickly as the flash floods that have wreaked so much damage in-and-around Penn Yan,” said Senator Schumer. “As the waters begin to recede, farmers should have all available federal assistance at their back so they can recover and rebuild from this sudden and substantial flooding. In the weeks and months ahead, we will fight for every last penny of aid from USDA and other sources to make sure our farmers can do just that.”

“Farms across Yates Country and the Finger Lakes region are under water, threatening planting season,” said Senator Gillibrand. “New York farmers are the backbone of our economy, and when they struggle, our entire economy struggles. It is so important to get these federal resources on the ground without delay, so that we can start recovery efforts that rebuild and protect our farms.”

Emergency crews worked throughout the night conducting evacuations and water rescues as a result of the worst flooding to hit the region in over forty years. A state of emergency has been declared in Yates County and Penn Yan schools are closed. The American Red Cross has set up a shelter at Penn Yan Academy. Several buildings in Penn Yan suffered major damage. The flooding caused the Owl’s Nest, a former community center that was being rehabbed on Seneca Street to collapse. A nearby parking lot also caved in, damaging cars. Parts of Route 364 are closed because ditches and culverts running underneath the state road washed out.

Schumer and Gillibrand are calling on Secretary Vilsack to swiftly grant a disaster designation for affected counties to provide farmers with prompt access to the financial and technical assistance they need to recover from the storm and rebuild their farm businesses by enabling farmers to apply for emergency, low-interest federal loans. In addition, Schumer and Gillibrand highlighted existing agricultural programs including, the Tree Assistance Program (TAP), the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-raised Fish (ELAP), the Emergency Conservation Program and the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. Yates County has already received an agricultural disaster declaration on account of the severe cold weather earlier this winter, but for farmers to apply for loans to cover damage from this flood, they require a new disaster declaration. Schumer and Gillibrand explained that a new agricultural disaster declaration would also give farmers more time to apply for these loans and disaster assistance programs.

These programs can provide a variety of tools to assist farmers overcome the challenges they will face in the coming weeks and months as they work to recover from production and physical losses on their farms and rebuild their businesses including financial assistance to compensate for crop losses, low interest emergency loans and assistance in rehabilitating farm land.