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February 22, 2003   Email to Friend 

Debra Davis
(334) 613-4686
February 22, 2003

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman has announced that the USDA is establishing a disaster assistance working group to ensure timely and efficient implementation of program benefits contained in the $3.1 billion disaster assistance package passed by the Congress last week.

"We want to make sure that the disaster aid implementation is a farmer-friendly process and our team at USDA is going to work to ensure that the program benefits reach producers as quickly as possible," said Veneman. "This working group will examine ways to expedite the process and cut red tape if possible to get program benefits in the hands of farmers and ranchers."

While it is still too early for USDA to determine when sign-up for the various disaster assistance programs will be available, this working group will begin examining program requirements and appropriate timetables. The disaster assistance programs contained in the measure will require producers to sign-up to receive program benefits through local Farm Service Agency offices. This will take USDA additional time to establish regulatory guidelines and write computer software programs so county offices are able to perform sign-up when those timeframes are announced.

The working group, much like USDA's Farm Bill working group, will consist of the Secretary's Sub-cabinet officials, USDA's Chief Economist, Budget Director and other career employees. This team will be instrumental in ensuring appropriate planning, coordination and implementation of the disaster programs.

As part of the disaster aid implementation process, USDA will launch a new website next week for producers to utilize that will contain information about the disaster assistance programs, questions and answers, as well as other pertinent data. The website will also contain a comments and suggestions section to encourage producers and interested parties to provide input to USDA on how best to move the implementation process forward.

"This working group will establish the framework to analyze the new programs, put in place the timeframe for implementation and sign-up, and issue guidance to producers who are eligible to receive these benefits," said Veneman. "Our team will continue their hard work in the coming months to get the job done."

For more information these issues, visit USDA's website at http://www.usda.gov.

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