By TIM ALEXANDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — With 37 Illinois counties now declared disaster zones by Gov. JB Pritzker, the newly elected Democrat promised farmers and rural dwellers additional aid to help them recover from record rainfall and flooding.
Key to the aid effort will be pooling of resources and manpower between the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) and the Illinois Emergency Management Agency (IEMA), Pritzker announced on June 19.
“Agriculture is the backbone of our state and to see our grain and livestock farmers and farming communities have to make these tough decisions is heartbreaking,” he said, referring to planting and crop insurance decisions that have growers up against the deadline for applying for prevented planting status insurance on some or all of their acreage.
“I’ve instructed my staff and agencies to provide assistance to help ease the pressures felt by farmers across Illinois.”
Pritzker recently spoke with USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) Director William Graff in advance of an upcoming meeting of the FSA State Emergency Board, during which a recommendation will be sought as to whether Illinois should issue an agriculture disaster declaration. Such a declaration would allow the Governor to request additional federal assistance for farmers in counties impacted by flooding.
In addition to taking initial steps to secure federal assistance, Pritzker announced IDOA and IEMA will collaborate on several initiatives, including:
•IDOA will offer a $400,000 cover crop incentive program for farmers who, due to the lateness of planting, have filed prevented planting claims. Local county soil and water conservation districts will assist in administering the program.
•The IDOA website at www2.illinois.gov/sites/agr has launched a Flood Assistance tab with links to available state and federal flood assistance resources.
•IEMA has launched a comprehensive flood recovery website at www2.illinois.gov/sites/2019Floods to address agricultural aid, emergency housing, and nutrition benefits.
•IEMA will continue to facilitate coordination between the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and local levees to evaluate levee conditions.
•IEMA will work with local governments to identify projects and programs dedicated to local flood mitigation and remediation.
•IEMA will continue to enhance communication networks in rural Illinois to send out messaging to alert residents of impending flood threats.
•Through the State Emergency Operations Center, IEMA will facilitate removal of debris, access to roads and rivers, and availability of necessary resources to address agribusiness logistical concerns.
In addition, IDOA and IEMA officials are sending out information to farmers and rural Illinoisans on how and where to seek professional help to deal with stress and depression associated with the aftermath of flooding and property loss.
“As a lifelong farmer I know firsthand how stressful farm life can be in a normal year, but this year has been especially hard on our farmers not only financially, but mentally,” said John Sullivan, IDOA director. “If you need help, please reach out to someone. Know you are not alone in feeling the pressure to secure your crops.”
IEMA Acting Director Alicia Tate-Nadeau noted this flood event has had unprecedented reach, impacting residents, business owners, farmers, and entire communities.
“Disasters take a toll on one’s physical and mental health,” she said. “As Illinoisans begin to clean up their businesses and homes, we also want to make mental health a priority. We are proud to partner with the National Alliance on Mental Illinois (NAMI) to offer a free informational helpline, a much-needed lifeline for those impacted by this disaster.”
The NAMI helpline phone number is 800-950-NAMI (6264).
In all, the IEMA’s 2019 Illinois Flood Recovery Website provides information on:
•Debris and damage reporting tools
•Recovery resource -- emergency housing and mortgage assistance, availability of multi-agency resource centers, health and safety, agricultural resources, fraud alert information, and disaster volunteer organizations
•Mental health hotline
•Road and travel updates
•County emergency management contacts
Also lending a hand is the American Red Cross, which has been providing cleaning supplies, disaster counseling, and referrals to pertinent disaster relief organizations. All assistance provided by the Red Cross and other members of Illinois’ Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) comes free of charge.
The central and southern Illinois American Red Cross disaster aid hotline is 309-677-7272 or 844-319-6560.