Funding added for farm repairs

Congress approves $50 million to aid hurricane victims

November 22, 1999|By Joel McCord | Joel McCord,SUN STAFF

In the weeks after Hurricane Floyd swept up the East Coast, Maryland officials doled out $747,000 in federal money to help farmers repair damage to their fields -- then ran out of money, leaving other farmers in limbo.

Those farmers might soon get help. Congress has approved a supplemental $50 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's emergency conservation program.

The money, which pays for repairs to waterways and ponds on farm fields to slow run-off and distribute it through woods and marshes, "hopefully should be available any time now," said Bebe Shortall, a program specialist with the state Farm Service Agency. The agency administers grants and low-interest loans.

Congress added the money to more than $1 billion in national programs to aid farmers who have been hit hard by natural disasters such as Floyd and last summer's drought.

Nine Maryland counties -- Allegany, Baltimore, Carroll, Frederick, Garrett, Howard, Montgomery, Queen Anne's and Washington -- have qualified for aid under a $218 million livestock disaster program, said Connie Byler-Hsu, also of FSA.

The agency will begin taking applications next month for help from a $1.3 million program for aid for crop disasters, she said.

Farmers in Queen Anne's, Kent and Cecil counties received money from the emergency conservation program shortly after Floyd blew through Sept. 16, but by the time farmers in Harford and Cecil counties submitted their requests for a total of $550,000, the money was gone, said Shortall.

Her agency told farmers to pay for repairs themselves, expecting they would get the money back from the federal government. "But we warned them there was no guarantee," she said.

The lack of money for conservation repairs caught USDA short. Farmers in North Carolina, who were hit hardest by the storm, applied for $15 million but received $5 million, said Shortall.

While agriculture officials were seeking more money, the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) distributed $3.6 million in low-interest loans to homeowners and businesses in Maryland and Delaware hit hard by Floyd, which dropped as much as a foot of rain in some places.

The deadline to apply for help from FEMA is today.

Anne Arundel and Somerset counties received most of the loans in Maryland -- 20 each for a total of about $750,000 -- said FEMA spokeswoman Colleen Hiam. The second-highest total -- 15 loans for $300,000 -- went to Cecil County, where more than 600 people fled the town of North East when the North East River overflowed its banks and washed away part of the Route 272 bridge.

"There were pockets of damage in all the states," Hiam said of a district that includes Maryland and other northeastern states. "The worst was in New Jersey, where there was almost $50 million in damage."

Most of the damage in Anne Arundel was from a "large number of mature trees that came down directly on houses or on utility lines," said Joe Byrnes, director of that county's emergency management agency.

"We had 75,000 people without power at one point, and a large number of them had sump pumps in their basements that weren't working," he said. "Many homeowners' insurance policies don't cover water damage, so they came to us."

Hiam said FEMA received 292 aid applications in Maryland and issued $1.5 million in loans, most of them at 4 percent interest or less and most of them to homeowners.

In Delaware, FEMA received 185 applications and has approved $2.1 million in loans, she said. All of them were in New Castle County in northern Delaware, the only one of the state's three counties that President Clinton declared a federal disaster area. Four rivers overflowed in New Castle County.

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