East Hawaii News

USDA Issues Secretarial Disaster Designation for Hawai`i County

September 4, 2014, 7:55 AM HST
* Updated September 4, 8:42 AM
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The United States Department of Agriculture announced Thursday that is designating Hawai`i County as a “primary natural disaster area” and issuing a Secretarial natural designation designation for the island.

In a letter sent to Gov. Neal Abercrombie on Sept. 3, USDA Secretary Thomas J. Vilsack said that his department “reviewed the Loss Assessment Reports and determined that there was sufficient production losses” to allow him to make the designation.

Vilsack noted that the request to designate Hawai`i County as a primary disaster area came on Aug. 18 by the Executive Director of the USDA’s Farm Service Agency, Diane Ley.

United States Senator Mazie Hirono said in a statement that a large amount of damage was done to the papaya industry statewide. In a media release issued early Thursday, Hirono said “an estimated 60% of statewide papaya production was devastated. Preliminary assessments indicate that damage and losses due to the storm for papaya farmers is over $50 million.”

The FSA website lists several eligibility requirements to qualify for an emergency loan. Among the requirements are owning land in the disaster area, establishing citizenship or permanent residence in the U.S., and being able to repay the loan.

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Reaction came quickly from the state’s highest elected politicians..

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“Many farmers in Puna are still recovering after suffering devastating crop loss due to Tropical Storm Iselle and they need our help,” said Senator Brian Schatz in a statement. “I thank USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack for reviewing the Loss Assessment Reports and for issuing a Secretarial natural disaster designation for Hawai`i County. Support from the USDA will help ensure that our farmers in Hawai`i County will receive the assistance they need.”

“For our Hawai`i Island farmers, this disaster declaration by the USDA opens the door for federal assistance, and is one more step toward a recovering from Hurricane Iselle,” said U.S. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard. “In the wake of the denial of a Presidential Disaster Declaration, it is critical that we find alternate sources of support, such as this U.S. Department of Agriculture assistance. I’m pleased that Secretary Vilsack recognized the true extent of damage experienced by our Hawai`i Island farmers, and is offering much-needed federal assistance. Our neighbors in Puna, volunteers, utility workers, and local and state agencies are working hard to rebuild and move forward. We must continue to support them however we can throughout the difficult process of recovery.”

“I appreciate Secretary Vilsack’s decision for a natural disaster designation and the work by the Farm Service Agency who initiated the request and has been on the front lines working with farmers,” said Hirono this morning. “Federal resources are urgently needed to help our farmers and access to emergency loans is an important option for farmers as they work to recover. I will continue to fight for federal resources to support communities, small businesses and families.”

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Vilsack said in his letter to Abercrombie that farmers in the disaster area have eight months to apply for emergency loans.

Big Island Now will provide updated information when it becomes available.

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