Kansas Congressman Jerry Moran expects an answer from the White House early next week on whether the state's application for federal disaster assistance has been approved.
Moran, the state's Congressman from the First District, says late December winter storms have caused millions of dollars in damage to farms, businesses and utilities throughout his district. He briefed reporters Friday on the progress in receiving federal assistance to provide support for the men and women dealing with the storm's aftermath, as well as funds to help defray expenditures stemming from the storm.
"Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius signed a request to declare 44 counties in Kansas a federal disaster area. I've been in contact with the Department of Homeland Security's division of emergency management and the White House since I returned to Washington D.C. Thursday. We've encouraged the White House to expedite the process," Moran says.
"I have no doubt that this storm clearly qualifies Kansas for this designation," he says.
The storm, which occurred the week of December 25, featured up to five inches of rain, four inches of ice and two feet of snow in many western Kansas counties. More than 65,000 Kansans lost electricity for days following the storm; there are still about 18,000 citizens that are without power. Heavy winds followed the precipitation, causing about 10,000 downed utility poles and hundreds of miles of downed electric lines, the Congressman says. He toured the region by plane on Jan. 3 with Governor Sebelius and Secretary of Agriculture Adrian Polansky, with stops made in Goodland, Colby, Ulysses and Satanta.
Other states, including New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado also have filed emergency disaster requests, Moran says. If approved – and emergency management officials have promised to work through the weekend to process the application – help in the form of personnel and money will come from the office of emergency management (formerly called FEMA).
"Counties, townships, cities and rural electric cooperatives may qualify for money to help defray expenses associated with the storm," Moran says.
Moran has appealed to USDA Secretary Mike Johanns that the area be declared an agricultural disaster. If approved, Johanns has promised to seek programs that can help producers offset costs related to dead animal removal and disposal; diesel costs incurred while generating electricity and repayment to the Kansas National Guard, which dropped supplies of hay to cattle in pastures.
"We are hoping there are things that can help pay producers for losses, rather than just giving the opportunity for farmers and ranchers to apply for low-interest loans," Moran says.
"The storm has caused a significant series of difficulties to the cattle feeding industry. The Kansas National Guard has dropped hay to cattle on pasture, but many feedyards are without feed and water," Moran says. "Should we fail to provide feed and water to this area, there will be huge consequences to the state of Kansas. No Congressional District in the country is more affected by the cattle feeding industry than the First District."
The Kansas Livestock Association sent a letter to Governor Sebelius Jan. 2 listing the resources needed by farmers and ranchers who have been hit hardest by the storm.
Restoring electricity, hay drops for pasture cattle and the removal of deceased animals are the highest priority needs; specifically, additional manpower and equipment to repair downed electric lines.
The KLA also asked Sebelius if additional back-up generators could be supplied by the state, as some expect power to be out until early next week.
Moran says he has heard reports that 1,000 cattle are dead due to the storms, but that is a preliminary estimate. Removal or burial of the above normal number of deceased animals will be necessary and the KLA is working with commercial rendering firms and state officials to address the situation.
Electricity cooperatives have millions of dollars in expenses due to downed power lines and broken poles. Moran says 9,700 utility poles were ruined in the Lane-Scott and Pioneer electrical cooperatives and that poles cost between $1,000 and $2,500 each.
He plans to visit Ness County on Monday to receive an update on the damage.
Ironically, the area hardest hit by the winter storm is also the area Moran has pleaded with Congress for drought-related disaster assistance for the past few years. He continues to work on behalf of farmers for a drought package, with new Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
"However, these are two separate issues," Moran says. "We will continue the drought effort."