The USDA is accepting comments on a proposed rule to streamline the process for its Secretarial Disaster Designation, allowing farmers and ranchers devastated by natural disaster to obtain assistance faster. The improvements outlined in the proposed rule aim to cut the time to make a disaster designation by as much as 70%. Designating disaster counties is a key step to authorizing disaster assistance for some of the programs administered by USDA.
A natural disaster designation makes all qualified farm operators in the designated areas eligible for a variety of assistance from USDA, including low interest emergency loans and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program. The Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to designate disaster counties to make disaster assistance programs available to farmers and ranchers.
Currently, designations require a state governor or Indian tribal council to initiate disaster designation through a formal request of the Secretary. The process has been in place for more than two decades and regulations have not been substantively revised since 1988. Streamlining the process from six steps to two will enable USDA to help those in need in an expedited manner, allowing farmers and ranchers devastated by natural disaster to obtain emergency loans faster than before. Additionally, the proposed rule can help to ensure all eligible disaster counties receive a designation.
The proposed rule, which is contained in the Federal Register dated Nov. 14, 2011, at www.regulations.gov, has a 60-day comment period. Comments on the proposed rule must be submitted no later than Jan. 13, 2012, to be considered.