SECRETARIAL DISASTER DESIGNATION PROCESS
Requests for Federal Help for Farmers
In response to a natural disaster such as a drought, a local government may write the Governor of Virginia requesting that farmers in that locality be extended federal assistance to cope with agricultural losses created by the prolonged drought. This request is made in the form of an official resolution adopted by the board of supervisors or city council. Such requests are usually made in response to requests from local farmers and/or information on agricultural conditions presented by the Cooperative Extension personnel assigned to that locality.
Authority for Secretarial Designation
Under section 321(a) of the federal Consolidated Farm and Rural Development Act, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture may extend disaster designation to localities in which farmers have experienced major agricultural crop losses caused by natural forces such as drought, hail, hurricanes, etc. Under the policy of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), requests for Secretarial designation are made to the Secretary by a State Governor. A gubernatorial request is based on and must be accompanied by a Loss Assessment Report (LAR). The LAR is prepared at the local level by a USDA Local Emergency Board and is reviewed and approved at the state level by a USDA State Emergency Board. A LAR documents the nature of a disaster, the time period of the disaster, the crops that are affected, actual reductions in yield, and the percentage of farmers who have suffered losses and at what levels.
Agency Handling of Local Requests
When the Governor's Office refers a local government's resolution requesting disaster designation to the Office of the Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry, the Secretary directs the Commissioner of Agriculture at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to cooperate with USDA/Farm Service Agency in preparing a LAR for that particular locality. Unless the LAR did not include sufficient support for a disaster designation request, the Commissioner would recommend that the Governor seek federal disaster designation on behalf of the locality. Local governments with qualifying LARs are designated as primary disasters areas by the U. S. Secretary of Agriculture. Each locality that borders a primary disaster area is considered a contiguous disaster area.
Deadline for Requests
In accordance with USDA policy concerning the timeliness of requests for natural disaster designation, a Governor's letter to the Secretary of Agriculture must be received at Washington headquarters within ninety days of the end of a disaster. In the case of a drought, it is sometimes difficult to determine when the disaster actually ends.
Benefits of Designation
The benefit of a secretarial designation is that farmers in designated localities that have suffered significant crop losses are eligible to apply for low interest federal emergency loans through USDA. These federal loans provide some help to farmers, but farmers, for the most part, must rely on crop insurance to provide any payments for lost income.
Disaster designations raise the visibility of the problems facing farmers and sometimes prompt Congress to take action to increase funding for existing programs and to make special appropriations.