As the hope of a rainy February fades, information on grant and loan assistance for those in Inyo County financially impacted by the third year of drought is starting to drizzle in, even if the clouds fail to release any moisture.
Both the county and the Inyo/Mono Agriculture Commissioner’s Office are getting the information out as quickly as it becomes available.
This year’s record-breaking lack of rain follows two consecutive low-rain, low-snowpack years, forcing ranchers, farmers and area residents to make some tough decisions.
One of the first indications of the drought’s impact came last fall when the creeks and ditches feeding West Bishop neighborhoods ran dry or ran sporadically at best. Older, shallow wells dependent on recharge from those creeks ran equally dry. One possible program for these residents is the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Repair and Rehabilitation Loans and Grants program, earmarked for low-income homeowners. A press release issued by Inyo County outlines the parameters of the program.
The purpose of the federal grants and loans is to repair, improve or modernize dwellings or to remove health and safety hazards. Dry residential wells qualify on both levels. According to the release, homeowner-occupants must be unable to obtain affordable credit elsewhere and have an income below 50 percent of the area median income. Income eligibility information is available on the website that follows. The maximum income for a two-person household in the West Bishop area is $44,150.
Loans of up to $20,000 are available to eligible applicants at 1 percent interest for up to 20 years. In addition, for homeowners 62 older who cannot repay the above loan, grants up to $7,500 are available.
Applications and information can be obtained by calling the USDA customer service at (559) 734-8732 or emailing Jennifer.Torres@ca.usda.gov . For income and property eligibility, visit eligibility.sc.egov.usda.gov/eligibility/welcomeAction.do or the USDA website www.rurdev.usda.gov/HAD-RR_Loans_Grants.html .
For businesses impacted by the drought, Small Business Administration Economic Injury Disaster Loans are available with an application deadline of Sept. 15. The loans are designed to offset reduced revenues caused by the drought. Details on applying are available at diasterloan.sba.gov/ela. Registration with the Federal Emergency Management Agency is required for the loan application. FEMA can be reached at (800) 621-3362 or at DisasterAssistance.gov.
Inyo County farmers and ranchers can go to the California Department of Food and Agriculture site (www.cdfa.ca.gov/drought ) as the best clearninghouse for information, according to Inyo Mono Ag Commissioner Nate Reade. “The site breaks assistance down to the appropriate agency with the appropriate link.”
For area ranchers, assistance is available through the USDA’s Farm Service Agency in the form of cost-share help under the Emergency Conservation Program. ECP assistance is applicable where drought damage is so severe that water available for livestock has been reduced to the extent that the animals cannot survive without additional water. Those who qualify can receive 50 percent of the cost of installing temporary measures. Cost sharing for permanent measures is based on 75 percent of the total cost, up to $200,000 per “person or legal entity,” according to information provided by the Nevada FSA. Measures can include installing pipelines or other facilities for livestock water or constructing and deepening wells for livestock water. The tri-counties, Inyo, Mono and Alpine, are serviced by the FSA office located in Yerington, Nev. and available by phone at (775) 463-2855.
Requests will be accepted through April 25. Nothing can be done until a request has been filed and an onsite inspection made.
The federal Natural Resources Conservation Service will provide assistance under its Environmental Quality Incentives Program. EQIP funds projects defined as irrigation efficiency, cover crops, rehabilitation of existing spring developments and the protection of grazing lands. The deadline for applications is March 3.
Other approaching application deadlines are Friday, Feb. 28 for crop insurance programs offered by the USDA’s Risk Management Agency and March 1 for non-insured crop insurance through the Farm Service Agency.
In addition to these programs, the 2014 federal Farm Bill includes $100 million in assistance for California ranchers that covers losses for 2014 with an additional $50 million available to cover losses in the first two years, 2012-13, of the state’s drought. President Barack Obama has put this assistance on the fast track with sign-ups starting in April. An additional $5 million has been allocated for California farmers and ranchers to conserve scarce water resources, reduce wind erosion on drought-impacted fields and improve livestock access to water.
Information released by the USDA urges farmers and ranchers to record information on the impact of the three-year drought.
Emergency measures taken by the state focus on conservation, improving water supplies and food and housing assistance to farm workers.
The CDFA is also working with the USDA on a series of information sessions state-wide to help farmers and ranchers navigate the assistance programs. The next session is scheduled for 6-8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 25 at the Ventura County Ag Commissioner’s Office in Camarillo (555 Airport Way, Suite E) followed by a meeting at the San Diego County Farm Bureau (1670 E. Valley Pkwy., Escondido) on Wednesday, Feb. 26 from 6-8 p.m.