Source: Daily Nonpareil

By Joe Morton

WASHINGTON – Both of Iowa’s U.S. senators expressed dismay Thursday that the Obama administration had turned down the state’s request for a disaster declaration over the outbreak of bird flu.

“The crippling impact of the avian flu has devastated Iowa’s poultry industry, farmers, producers and local communities,” said Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa.

As a leading state for egg production, Iowa has been particularly affected by the nationwide outbreak, with nearly two-thirds of all infected and destroyed birds coming from Iowa, she said. Farms hit by the disease create an economic ripple effect that hurts the rural areas around them.

But Craig Fugate, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, wrote to Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, this week informing him that the request for supplemental federal assistance was found not to be appropriate.

“Based on our review of all the information available, it has been determined that the damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and the other responding federal agencies,” Fugate wrote in the letter.

Fugate did point out that the state can appeal the denial within 30 days.

Branstad spokesman Jimmy Centers said the state will gather information on whether an appeal would produce a different result.

“Regardless, the governor is committed to ensuring every state resource is available to counties, producers and workers adversely affected by this virus outbreak,” Centers said.

The Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate Homeland Security Committee both held hearings this week on the outbreak and the federal government’s response.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, noted that an administration official called it the largest animal health emergency in the nation’s history.

“Granting a disaster declaration would have made several forms of federal assistance available to these producers,” Grassley said. “Iowa has suffered great losses from this catastrophic outbreak, and I’m very disappointed that a disaster declaration wasn’t granted to help deal with the impact.”

Ernst said farmers hit by the disease are having to front the costs of cleaning their operations. She said the disaster declaration could have helped with that.

Still, she noted that indemnity payments are available and expressed confidence the state would rebound.

She also pointed to administration efforts to improve communication with producers by embedding federal workers with contractors hired to respond to the crisis. 

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