Sunday, December 16, 2018

Farm Bureau Urges USDA to Boost Hurricane Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico

By on November 14, 2018

SAN JUAN –  Washington, D.C.-based American Farm Bureau Federation has written to Bill Northey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s under secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service, saying Puerto Rico’s more than 13,000 farm and ranch families devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017, need help accessing funds.

Less than 1,500 Puerto Rican farmers and ranchers have filed for payments through USDA’s 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP), which has been available since July, and “few, if any, have received payments, according to the Farm Bureau, an independent, non-governmental, voluntary organization.

The Farm Bureau is urging the USDA to “make immediate efforts to improve customer service” in its Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices on the island, “with a focus on WHIP enrollment.” The organization is also asking the department to provide a permanent extension for WHIP applications beyond the Nov. 16 deadline.

“Part of the problem is farmers and their local Farm Bureau representatives have had little success in getting much-needed support from their local Farm Service Agency  officials. On top of that, they were only recently made aware of an online e-authentication process available for the WHIP payments,” a release explains.

“Another likely factor is local FSA officials’ shift in focus from processing WHIP applications to working on the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program, which recently prompted a whistleblower complaint. According to the complaint, important disaster assistance work was found to be out of compliance—and ultimately rejected—for errors that weren’t errors at all.

In his letter, AFBF President Zippy Duvall wrote that “lack of WHIP assistance in Puerto Rico must be addressed quickly to ensure that farming and ranching remains a critical component of Puerto Rico’s economy.”

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