By Dan Chalk | firstname.lastname@example.org | Posted Aug 12, 2020
Bette Brand traveled to mid-Michigan this week to deliver a message: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is available to help the rural communities devastated by the flooding in May.
“When rural America thrives, all of America thrives,” Brand, the USDA Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development, said during an outdoor news conference Wednesday morning attended by about 40 people in downtown Sanford, probably the most intense area of flood destruction in the five-county declared major disaster area. “This disaster was particularly devastating. When something like this happens, rural communities come to a screeching halt.”
Brand, who previously spent more than 35 years with Farm Credit of Virginias, was joined by U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, and several other local officials to promote awareness of what USDA can do for rural areas, particularly in the wake of the flood.
“We are uniquely positioned to help,” Brand said. “We have the resources to help rebuild infrastructure. We can help with schools, hospitals, safe affordable housing. … The USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities.”
In terms of responding to a flood, Brand said the USDA is distinguished from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) by being a longer-term partner.
“FEMA is the first (agency) on the ground after a disaster. It is a stabilizing (force),” Brand explained.
FEMA officials often refer to the agency’s guiding principles of making sure residents’ homes are “safe, sound and sanitary” by providing grants to address short-term needs such as restoration of electricity and plumbing.
USDA, on the other hand, is available to communities for the long haul, Brand said.
“Our loan programs can go for 40 years or more,” she said.
A section in the Flood Resource Guide on Moolenaar’s legislative website reads: “USDA Rural Development helps rural communities grow by increasing economic development and improving the quality of life in rural and small towns. Rural Development provides loans, grants, and assistance to eligible areas in order to build critical infrastructure to expand access to electricity and transportation infrastructure and to support businesses, education, housing, and other resources essential to communities.”
USDA Rural Development offers more than 40 programs through low-interest loans, grants and assistance.
To apply for assistance through Rural Development programs, visit rd.usda.gov to find out your eligibility. Most of these resources are not dependent on disasters or emergency circumstances, so your eligibility can be determined at any time. Most Rural Development programs are income-based.
Those who have a Rural Development Single Family Housing Direct Loan and were impacted by the flooding, either due to damage expenses or loss of a job, could be eligible for a loan payment moratorium of up to 180 days.
Contact Rural Development at 800-414-1226 or 800-438-1832 from 8 a.m to 6 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday; or email email@example.com.
Moolenaar thanked the USDA for its support after the flooding.
“I can’t thank my friends at the USDA enough for being here right from the start (in May),” said Moolenaar, who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, which oversees the USDA.
Sanford Village President Dolores Porte said she was excited about the potential for the village to partner with the USDA on various improvement projects.
“The community is ready to partner with the USDA,” Porte said.
Porte has talked with both FEMA and USDA officials, she told the Daily News.
“They each asked me, ‘What is it you want to accomplish? Put a list together.’ So, part of it now is just (a matter of) applying with the right organization and following each of their processes.”
Porte noted that the new Jerome Township fire station, which recently broke ground, is an example of a USDA project that was actually approved prior to the flooding.
Most USDA and FEMA community grants require some kind of financial contribution from the community, Porte said. But she noted that in many cases, the volunteer hours donated by community members for clean-up and restoration work after the flooding can be considered “in-kind” contributions.
Also at the news conference, a local resident asked the legislators present for help in getting insurance companies to pay for damage due to the disaster in May. He asserted the event wasn’t actually a flood, but rather a man-made disaster due to mismanagement that led to the failure of the Edenville and Sanford dams.
“This was not a flood. This was human error,” he said, and concluded that therefore insurance companies should have to pay for any damage that resulted from the failure of the dams.
State Rep. Annette Glenn, R-Midland, who was also present at the news conference, said she would follow up on this resident’s concerns, and she met with him afterward.
“We’re continuing to dig in and ask questions (about the disaster in May),” Glenn said.