Press Releases

“This declaration opens the door to federal aid to ease the hardships faced by workers and communities as a result of the freeze.

Much more needs to be done.  But this is major step toward meeting the federal government’s obligation to those in desperate need.”

Attached are the letters Feinstein and Boxer have sent requesting relief:

March 5, 2007

The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

We write to follow up on our February 2nd requests for a federal disaster declaration in counties that were devastated by the January agricultural freeze in California and urge you to immediately grant the declaration. The unprecedented freezing temperatures in California destroyed $1.323 billion in crops and left thousands of citrus industry workers unemployed. It has been over a month since our initial request, and as the State continues to wait for your decision, more and more farm workers and their families are struggling every day to deal with the ongoing impacts of the freeze on their lives.

On February 2nd, Governor Schwarzenegger requested that you provide federal disaster assistance for the impacted workers in the form of Disaster Unemployment Assistance, Food Coupons and Distribution, Crisis Counseling, and Legal Services. The same day Senators Boxer and Feinstein echoed the Governor's call for an immediate federal disaster declaration.

The State has already provided a significant amount of assistance to the thousands affected by the freeze. The Office of Emergency Services established twenty "One-Stop" assistance centers throughout the state, and provided over $2 million in funding to local food banks and $1.75 million in emergency funding for rent, mortgage, and utility assistance, among many other outreach and assistance initiatives. In addition, local food banks, churches, and community centers throughout California have mobilized to help community members deal with the disaster.

State and local groups can only provide so much assistance during disasters, and it is the responsibility of the federal government to help shoulder the burden in times of crisis. The urgency of the need for federal assistance to help these farm workers and their families cannot be underestimated. Francisco Torres, a 26-year veteran citrus worker whose son is serving in Iraq tells of how his fellow citrus workers are struggling to pay the rent because there is not enough work, and citrus grower Marc McBroom has had to lay off 120 of his harvesters because of the freeze.

As these stories show, agriculture workers and their families are integral members of their local communities, and the federal government must act immediately to help them during this time of crisis.

It is our understanding that last week Department of Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff gave you the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) certification of California's eligibility for disaster assistance. Your signature is the last hurdle to clear before federal assistance can begin flowing to the thousands of workers and their families whose livelihoods have been devastated by the freeze.

We urge you to immediately declare a federal disaster in the 31 California counties impacted by the freeze and to task the appropriate federal agencies to do all that is necessary to deal with its tragic impacts. Please be assured we will do all we can to move Congress to guarantee that the federal government provides the necessary resources to our impacted citizens.

                    Sincerely,

                    Barbara Boxer
                    United States Senator
 
                    Dianne Feinstein
                    United States Senator
 
                    Arnold Schwarzenegger
                    Governor of California


February 7, 2007

The Honorable Robert C. Byrd             
Chairman                                              
Committee on Appropriations   

The Honorable Thad Cochran
Ranking Member
Committee on Appropriations
                     
Dear Chairman Byrd and Senator Cochran:

We are writing to request your assistance in providing agricultural disaster relief for $1.2 billion in crop losses due to a freeze in California in the Supplemental Appropriations bill.

Along with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the State’s congressional delegation, we have asked the President for a federal disaster declaration in 31 of California’s 58 counties.  The affected area stretches 500 miles, throughout the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys, along the Central Coast, and into Southern California, where much of the nation’s winter vegetables are grown.  It is the most extensive freeze our state has suffered since 1947.  We understand that 15,000 workers will be displaced in some of California’s most economically challenged communities.  We believe that we must work to provide relief to both the growers and workers who have been devastated by this disaster.

Agriculture is California’s biggest industry.  So a freeze of this magnitude will have a major effect.  It is clear that California citrus growers have been severely impacted.  However, this freeze has also devastated avocadoes, mangoes, leafy greens, peppers, artichokes, strawberries, and nursery plants.  Those who have been hardest hit this year – who have seen their entire crop wiped out – will not have a crop again for two or three years because of the damage to the trees by the sustained low temperatures.

Since January 11, when the freeze began, the State Government has collected comprehensive data on the costs to farmers.  To date, the State estimates a total of $1.247 billion in lost crops, which may increase as much as 15 percent or even possibly higher.  The loss at present includes:

  • $464.6 million in navel oranges in 10 counties
  • $161 million in Valencia oranges in 5 counties
  • $88.3 million in lemons in 11 counties
  • $45.8 million in mandarins in 6 counties
  • $14.8 million in grapefruit in 4 counties
  • $145.9 million in avocadoes in 7 counties
  • $17 million in leafy vegetables in 5 counties
  • $120 million in nursery stock in 9 counties
  • $20.8 million in grapes in just one county, and
  • $36.9 million in strawberries in 8 counties

It is not as easy to quantify the human toll.  Right now, people are having a hard time making it day to day.  These are field workers, packing house employees, and independent truckers.  Workers do not have money to buy food for their families or to pay rent and utility bills.  Money problems are exacerbated by the high heating costs due to the severe winter weather.  Many renters must pay on a weekly basis, so they do not even have a month between payments.

In a normal year, citrus workers are employed 11 months of the year.  Citrus packing houses are typically running full shifts in February.  Right now they are packing only four hours a day.  This means that some employees are completely unemployed while others are unable to collect unemployment insurance because they are involuntarily working part-time.  As of yesterday, 3,232 individuals had applied for unemployment insurance due to the freeze.

Many of our rural communities are totally dependent on agriculture and are now endangered.  For example, there is a small town in the Central Valley called Orange Cove.  In this town of 10,000, 80 percent are out of work due to the freeze.  Two weeks ago our staffs participated in a food distribution program, at which 6,000 people came to receive food.

We know of a woman from Orange Cove who has worked in a packing house for 19 years, whose usual salary is $800 per week.  Due to the freeze and the limited packing hours, she is now only making $400 per week.  Because she is working the shifts available, she does not qualify for unemployment but will be unable to make her house payment at the end of the month.

The State is already providing these workers with access to a variety of programs, including income support, food assistance, emergency medical services, and employment and training services.  However, we believe the federal government will need to augment the efforts of the State, local governments, and community based organizations.  We will need to provide disaster unemployment assistance, food assistance, and housing assistance.

Many of California’s farmers carry crop insurance in preparation for just such a disaster.  Unfortunately, not all crops are eligible for crop insurance, sometimes even different varieties of a crop are ineligible.  Our understanding is that, if our citrus growers are able to collect the total of crop insurance they are due, it would be a maximum of $311 million.  The operating costs of farming alone for this year were $560 million for the affected fields and orchards for one year.  That does not include the at least $100 million growers have spent in the last months trying to save their orchards.  Farmers will also need to begin making ready for next year’s harvest, which will again incur $560 million in normal farming costs.

Attached are pictures of California avocadoes, oranges, and strawberries that show the severity of the freeze and the need for federal assistance.  We have also attached Governor Schwarzenegger’s February 2 letter to the President, which includes the estimated agricultural loss, the State share of costs for disaster assistance to workers, and unemployment data.

We have asked our staffs to provide to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee the necessary information on the specific federal programs we will need to fund in order to assist the growers and workers.  We look forward to working with you to provide assistance to the people in our State devastated by this agricultural disaster.

                    Sincerely,

                    Dianne Feinstein                                                
                    United States Senator

                    Barbara Boxer
                    United States Senator                                       

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