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Rural Coalition and OCA Call for Hurricane Relief for Southern Farmers & Farmworkers

From: http://www.ruralco.org

Letter to the Secretary of Agriculture

For more information contact:

Lorette Picciano, Rural Coalition (202) 628-7160 (lpicciano@ruralco.org) Jerry Pennick, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund
(404) 765-0991 (lafund@mindspring.com)
Check ruralco.org for updates.

September 7, 2005 The Honorable Mike Johanns United States Department of Agriculture Washington, DC 20250

Dear Secretary Johanns,

Farmers, farmworkers and rural communities throughout the region hit by Hurricane Katrina are deeply affected by this tragedy. We, the undersigned, include organizations with deep roots of the affected area and with formidable experience in response to previous disasters, including the Midwest floods and hurricanes in the Carolinas and Florida. We call on you to lead a vigorous response by USDA to meet these urgent and unprecedented needs.

We ourselves are only beginning to assess the full impact of the disaster. At this time, we want to share with you a list of our preliminary recommendations for immediate response by USDA. There are some urgent things that are needed, but we are talking about a massive redistribution of people and the rebuilding the Southeast region. We are willing to work with you to research needs and construct a long - term strategy for recovery and resettlement and to reconnect with our neighbors from urban areas.

We envision that such long term recovery efforts have as their basis self-help cooperative principles including developing housing cooperatives, self-help housing, worker owned cooperative clean-up, rehabilitation and construction crews, as well as our ongoing work with farmers cooperatives and credit unions. We will follow later with proposals for longer-term support to transform this disaster into an opportunity for equitable and sustainable development in the region.

After devastating the urban communities of New Orleans, Mobile, Gulfport and Biloxi, Hurricane Katrina roared through a wide area of some of the nation's most vulnerable rural communities, upsetting lives and livelihoods, destroying crops, toppling trees, cutting power and phone lines, and leaving fields inundated and unsuitable for fall planting. Houses, farm buildings, cars and equipment were damaged and destroyed. Fuel for vehicles and generators is in short supply, leaving families and livestock in danger. The markets for fresh products that African American farmers have worked so hard to build were eradicated with the destruction of the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans and the casinos along the coast.

The facilities of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives and its members were damaged by the storm, including roofs at the Rural Training and Research Center at Epes, Alabama, the packing facilities of the Indian Springs Farmers Co-op near Hattiesburg, MS., the Beat 4 Farmers Marketing Center in Macon, MS, the East Mississippi Federal Credit Union branches in Louisville and Macon and others.

On the gulf coast in Alabama, already hit last year by Hurricane Ivan, losses are expected to include two-thirds of the cotton crop and, substantial losses of peanuts, citrus and pecans, leaving farmers with no means of producing income for at least 6 months. Fisherman and shrimpers lost boats and equipment. Before reaching the Gulf coast, Katrina also hit south Florida, which is suffering losses from hurricanes in the previous year. Most recently, 2,800 farm work jobs were lost in Florida alone and nearly $700 million in damages there to vegetable and nursery crops.

Farmers in Alabama and elsewhere are concerned because farmworkers are leaving and help will not be available when they need it, but also because while farmers and other families are getting basic assistance, there is no aid available for emergency food and housing for displaced farmworkers and their families. Throughout the region, housing where workers live has been significantly damaged by flooding and leaking. We have also heard reports from Louisiana that farmworkers who were not paid for their work the week before Katrina struck were evicted from apartments when they did not have funds to pay rent. Moreover, this nation lacks any system to locate and bring emergency relief to farmworkers who may have been killed, injured or displaced by the storm.

The magnitude of the disaster is beyond what we have seen before.

The situation is made more difficult because the rural areas affected, largely poor and heavily African American, had limited infrastructure and poor economies before the disaster. As always, those affected most deeply are those who were already poor.

Farm families in the communities we serve are taking in family members and others who were forced from New Orleans and the coast. FEMA has contacted the officials of Greene County, Alabama about setting up 1000 trailers to relocate families displaced by Katrina. With only 11,000 citizens, this county, as well as others like it, will need significant and immediate support to assure the community can welcome and serve the needs of up to 4000 people where jobs are insufficient for the population already there.

While we focus on needs in rural areas, we also strongly support the allocation of the resources needed for food stamps and other feeding programs. In addition, a comprehensive plan and adequate federal resources to meet rural housing needs in partnership with communities will need to be developed. USDA should also consider how to place grain that cannot be shipped into food reserves to prevent a market disaster.

We propose the following actions for immediate response to the extraordinary conditions in the affected region:

1. Community based organizations that have longstanding roots in rural communities and who are able to reach and have the confidence of farmers, farmworkers and rural residents are essential partners to recovery efforts and an adequate response by USDA.

We therefore request that USDA: € Commit immediate and significant resources in grants and contracts to your CBO partners to develop and staff rapid response teams capable of delivering an emergency outreach program. These teams would be dedicated to immediately working one on one work with farmers, fishers, farmworkers and rural residents to help them understand and access the full range of programs and services available to them and to work with the staff of USDA and other federal agencies to assure adequate response to these urgent needs. € Work in partnership with CBO's to develop a comprehensive rural recovery and rebuilding plan with the involvement of underserved rural communities, farmers and farmworkers and residents displaced from urban areas in the region. We propose that you secure emergency funds from Risk Management and other USDA agencies to support an immediate CBO-led disaster assessment of the many needs and assets in rural communities that must be considered in order to develop the short and long-term responses of the scale necessary to assure lasting recovery and resettlement that reaches the populations who need it most.

2. Due to the extraordinary losses in the field, an extension of PL 108-324 that removes the limit of coverage for farmers who have experienced multiple disasters would be a good start in addressing losses to farmers and ranchers. The lessons after the 2004 hurricanes have shown other needs not met by those programs. For example, casualty losses to livestock, poultry, and aquaculture enterprises, including losses to cash lessees and contract growers that were not addressed by the Emergency Hurricane Supplemental Appropriations Act should be included now. In previous years, the Livestock Indemnity Program and Livestock Indemnity Program for Contract Growers have compensated growers for mortality. These growers will also suffer lost income during the months before they are able to rebuild facilities and buy or contract for new herds/flocks. In addition, the widespread market disruption caused by Katrina will require creative new efforts.

3. Due to the inability of farmers and rural residents to make payments or reschedule debt, we request that you to set in place an automatic disaster set aside for payments on direct FSA and RHS loan installments due within the next one year and enable and encourage private lenders with guarantees to do the same.

4. In addition, we urge you to institute an immediate moratorium of not less than one year on all pending acceleration and foreclosure actions on farm and rural housing loans, including the suspension of the accrual of interest on such loans. We further urge USDA to seek an emergency waiver on offsets under the debt collection improvement act within the affected region.

5. Emergency grants through the rural development programs, including the community facilities program, are needed to repair damaged facilities and upgrade infrastructure at value-added processing facilities, and community centers in the region. We urge you to prioritize support for the Land-based Training Centers and especially the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Training Center at Epes, which can be used for the many activities needed to help displaced people rebuild their lives, and to restore the damaged packing, marketing and processing facilities that are essential for access to markets and to support employment in the region.

6. Meeting the immediate and direct needs of farmworkers is essential to both farmers and farmworkers. In order to meet these needs, the appointment of a permanent farmworker coordinator at USDA is crucial and long overdue. We urge you to exercise your authority under Section 10102 of the 2002 Farm Bill to request $20 million from Congress to make emergency grants to meet the basic and immediate needs the low-income migrant and seasonal farmworker population who have been displaced. The farmworker coordinator should administer this program, and resources delivered through the Community-based groups in the region who have the expertise to assure it reaches the farmworkers.

7. The Natural Resources and Conservation Service should be called upon to coordinate with its CBO partners to assess needs and implement a plan to address environmental damages and hazards and to support staffing so the CBO's can work with NRCS to assure farmers understand and access the appropriate NRCS programs. We further recommend that the Small Scale Limited Resource Initiative be expanded to provide emergency resources needed for irrigation, livestock and land conservation activities essential in the wake of the storm. In addition, the emergency watershed protection program should be expanded to include 100% cost share for animal carcass disposal, and a special EQIP emergency program for rebuilding livestock grazing and animal waste facilities including fencing, water treatment and wells. As NRCS allocates contracting resources for clean up and repair services, it should work with CBO's to identify and train small farmers and farmworkers who have been displaced and hire and fairly compensate them to undertake this work. Mr. Secretary, we request that you make the needs and actions we have addressed central to USDA's disaster response and we request that you establish a direct liaison with us as you shape this response.

Sincerely, Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural, Washington, DC Federation of Southern Cooperatives/Land Assistance Fund, East Point, Georgia Georgia State Association, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/LAF Alabama State Association, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/LAF South Carolina State Association, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/LAF Florida State Association, Federation of Southern Cooperatives/LAF Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, Jackson, MS National Family Farm Coalition, Washington, DC Farm Aid, Somerville, MA Oxfam America, Boston, MA Louisiana Interchurch Conference, Baton Rouge, LA American Corn Growers Association, Washington, DC The Rural Advancement Foundation International, North Carolina Farmworker Association of Florida, Inc., Apopka, FL Community Food Security Coalition, Venice, CA National Association of Farmer Elected Committees, Washington, DC National Farmers Organization, Washington, DC National Farm Worker Ministry, St. Louis, MO National Catholic Rural Life Conference, Des Moines, IA Presbyterian Church USA, Louisville, KY United Church of Christ Justice and Witness Ministries, Cleveland, OH National Association of Latino/Hispanic Farmers and Ranchers of America, Washington, DC Soybean Producers of America, DesArc, AR Agriculture Missions, Inc., New York, New York
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, MN Land Loss Prevention Project, Durham, NC National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture, Pine Bush, NY National Association of Conservation Districts, Washington, DC National Center for Appropriate Technology, Fayetteville, Arkansas; Butte, Montana and Davis, California American Agriculture Movement, Inc USA Missouri Rural Crisis Center, Columbia, MO Rural Advancement Fund, Orangeburg, SC United Farmers USA, Inc., Manning, South Carolina Hispanic Organizations Leadership Alliance, Washington, DC Seven Generations Ahead, Oak Park, Il Minnesota Ag Network, Inc., Mahtomedi, MN Black Farmers & Agriculturist Association, Tillery, NC Concerned Citizens of Tillery, Tillery, NC North Carolina Environmental Justice Network, Tillery, NC Commission on Religion in Appalachia, Charlestown, WV New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, Lowell, MA Nutrition Crossroads, Concord, NH Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York Santa Ana Lulac Council #147, Santa Ana, CA League of United Latin American Citizens, Santa Ana, CA Washington State University Small Farms Program, Yakima, WA Waialua Farmers Cooperative, Honolulu, Hawaii Women, Food and Agriculture Network, Atlantic, IA Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville, Louisville, KY The Markham Center, Montpelier, VT Agriculture and Land-Based Training Association, Salinas, CA Homeworkers Organized for More Employment, Orland, ME Border Agricultural Workers Project, El Paso, TX Michigan Food and Farming Systems, East Lansing, MI American Agriculture Movement of Arkansas Growing Power, Milwaukee, WI Western MN Farm Resource Center Inc, Detroit Lakes, MN Minnesota Food Association New Immigrant Agriculture Project, Marine on St. Croix-May, MN Community Supported Agriculture Learning Center at Angelic Organics Kentucky Resources Council, Frankfort, Kentucky Michael Fields Agricultural Institute, East Troy, WI Southern Rural Development Initiative, North Carolina Center for Food Safety, Washington, DC Glynwood Center, Cold Spring, NY Center for New Community, Chicago, Illinois New York Sustainable Agriculture Working Group, Rochester, New York NE Wisconsin Organic Chapter LLC OCIA Illinois Chapter # 1 Southern Sustainable Agriculture Working Group University of California Small Farm Program, Davis, California ActionAid International USA, Washington, DC Lideres Campesina, Pomona, CA Mississippi 2020 Network Inc., Jackson MS Organic Consumers Association, Little Marais, MN Michigan Land Trustees, Bangor, Michigan Liberian Community Foundation, Dixon, California The Cornucopia Institute, Cornucopia, WI FoodRoutes Network, Millheim, PA World Hunger Year, New York, NY Grassroots International, Boston, MA Navajo Nation Chinle, AZ Local Governance Support Center Fort Defiance, AZ Local Governance Support Center Shiprock, AZ Local Governance Support Center Tuba City, AZ Local Governance Support Center Crown Point, AZ Local Governance Support Center Los Angeles Coalition to End Hunger & Homelessness, Los Angeles, CA Pesticide Action Network, San Francisco, CA Breezy Hill Orchard and Cider Mill, Stattsburg, NY Hudson Valley Agriculture Partnership, Poughkeepsie, NY Green Market, New York, New York R-CALF USA, Billings, MT California Coalition for Food and Farming Iowa Farmers Union Western Sustainable Agriculture Working Group Food First/Institute for Food & Development Policy, Oakland, California Social Concerns/Rural Life, Catholic Charities, Diocese of Sioux City, IA CASA of Oregon, Newberg, OR Weston A. Price Foundation, Washington DC.

American Agriculture Movement, Inc. Sturgeon, Missouri The Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network, Mt. Vernon, WA Caretaker Farm CSA, Williamstown MA Northeast Organic Farming Assoc. of Vermont, Richmond, VT Fort Belknap Indian Community and Fort Belknap Agency, Harlem, MT MEGA (Mississippians Engaging in Greener Agriculture), Shelby, MS Rockwater Farms, Boone, NC Guzman Orchards, Tieton, WA
Rural Community Development Resources, Center for Latino Farmers, Yakima, WA Rural Development Leadership Network, New York, NY Housing Assistance Council, Washington, DC Nebraska Rural Response Hotline, Lincoln, NE New American Farming Association, Portland, OR Northeast Organic Dairy Producers, Deerfield, MA CitySeed, Inc., New Haven, CT Bronx Greens, Bronx, NY California Institute for Rural Studies, Davis, CA Portland Farmers' Market, Portland, OR Northeast States Association for Agricultural Stewardship, Dresden, ME cc: Senate and House Agriculture Committees Senate and House Appropriations Committees U.S. Representative Bob Goodlatte, Chairman House Agriculture Committee U.S. Representative Collin C. Peterson, Ranking Member House Agriculture Committee U.S. Representative Jerry Lewis, Chairman House Appropriations Committee U.S. Representative David R. Obey, Ranking Member House Appropriations Committee U.S. Representative Henry Bonilla, Chairman Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration U.S. Representative Rosa L. DeLauro, Ranking Member Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food and Drug Administration U.S. Senator Saxby Chambliss, Chairman Senate Agriculture Committee U.S. Senator Tom Harkin, Ranking Member Senate Agriculture Committee U.S. Senator Thad Cochran, Chairman Senate Appropriations Committee U.S. Senator Robert C. Byrd, Ranking Member Senate Appropriations Committee U.S. Senator Robert Bennett, Chairman Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies U.S. Senator Herb Kohl, Ranking Member Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, and Related Agencies The Rural Coalition/Coalición Rural 1012 14th Street NW, Suite 1100; Washington, DC 20005 T (202) 628-7160 F (202) 628-7165 ruralco@ruralco.org Copyright © 2005 Rural Coalition