U.S. Agriculture Chief: S.D. Disaster Request to Be Decided Soon

October 9, 2009

Federal officials will decide within a week or two whether to approve a request for disaster declarations for counties in central and northeastern South Dakota hurt by spring flooding, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said.

Gov. Mike Rounds asked for a presidential disaster declaration in late March for 14 counties and two American Indian reservations. A preliminary survey found more than $3.5 million in emergency costs and damages.

Speaking more than 300 South Dakota farmers on Oct. 5, Vilsack said he expects many of those counties will be designated as disaster areas. That means area farmers could qualify for federal disaster relief and get payments for losses in 2008 by the end of this year, he said.

A presidential disaster declaration also would provide federal money for up to 75 percent of the eligible costs to repair public facilities like roads, bridges and sewage systems.

The governor’s request covers the Cheyenne River and Standing Rock Indian reservations, and Brown, Butte, Campbell, Corson, Day, Dewey, Edmunds, Harding, Marshall, McPherson, Perkins, Roberts, Spink, and Ziebach counties.

Rain drummed on a farm building’s metal roof as Vilsack talked with farmers about a variety of issues, including the energy bill and efforts to help young people start farming. He appeared with Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, South Dakota’s only U.S. House member, who grew up on a farm nearby.

Steve Owen, a farmer from Henry, told Vilsack he believes the energy bill now in Congress would hurt farmers financially. Payments to farmers and ranchers for conservation measures would not offset higher costs for fuel and utilities, he said.

“This whole thing is a huge tax,” Owen said.

Vilsack said he believes farmers and ranchers would get enough offsetting payments cover the higher costs and end up with a profit. The bill is important because the United States needs to quickly develop more renewable fuel technology and prevent China from gaining the lead in the field, he said.

The agriculture secretary talked only briefly about the stimulus package proposed by President Barack Obama and passed by the Democratic Congress, saying it is helping people get through tough times.

LeRoy Coleman, a spokesman for the Republican National Committee, issued a statement before the meeting criticizing Vilsack and Herseth Sandlin for supporting the package.

“It’s been almost eight months since Rep. Herseth Sandlin helped President Obama throw $787 billion in taxpayer dollars into the abyss in the hopes of turning our economy around,” Coleman said. “And nearly eight months later, South Dakotans are still waiting for the jobs to be created, or at the very least keep jobs from being lost.”

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