August 09, 2023

Warren, New England Senators Ask Biden Administration to Support Flood-Stricken Communities, Farms, and Businesses in Upcoming Congressional Funding Request

Federal Support through Supplemental Disaster Appropriations Request to Congress is Crucial to Helping New England Communities and Farmers Recover from Historic Floods 

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) sent a letter to President Joe Biden, thanking his administration for its support for New England communities that suffered catastrophic flooding in July 2023, and requesting that President Biden continue to address the ongoing needs of these communities in any upcoming disaster supplemental appropriations request to Congress. 

“The flooding was the worst New England has seen in over a decade, and in some areas the worst in almost a century. Many small businesses in the region are now struggling to reopen. It will take the impacted communities months, if not years, to fully recover, with significant costs associated with rebuilding. Many of these small and rural communities that were impacted do not have the resources available to immediately and adequately respond to the recent devastation. Instead, in the weeks since the storms, towns across the region have relied on residents to take time away from their jobs and families to clean up roads, downtowns, farmland, small businesses, and homes,” wrote the senators. 

In mid-July 2023, torrential storms and subsequent flooding destroyed farmland across much of New England at one of the worst times in the season – before many crops could be harvested, but after the point at which they could have been successfully replanted. In Massachusetts, floods impacted 2,700 acres across an estimated 110 farms, destroying over $15 million in crops. In Vermont, floods are estimated to have impacted anywhere between 10% and 50% of all farmland in the state. Meanwhile, Connecticut producers lost more than 1,500 acres of crops, resulting in nearly $21 million in lost sales revenue. Farmers and communities in New York, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire were also impacted.  

In response, on July 14, 2023, President Biden declared a major disaster in Vermont and ordered the provision of federal aid, including unlocking federal funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and direct loans from the Small Business Administration, for the state to support affected communities and small businesses. On July 31, 2023, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack designated seven Massachusetts counties as natural disaster areas and several other counties in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island, New York, and New Hampshire  as contiguous disaster areas. This designation will allow impacted farmers to access emergency assistance from the Farm Service Agency in the form of Emergency Farm Loans and a Disaster Set-Aside to defer payments on direct loans.  

However, the lawmakers note that these forms of assistance will provide insufficient relief for struggling farmers. Many of those impacted by flooding were small rural farmers who lack flood insurance and whose resources were largely destroyed.  These farmers need additional direct federal assistance, beyond just loans. 

“Your administration is expected to submit a supplemental disaster appropriations request to Congress later this year. Since 2018, Congress has consistently issued emergency supplemental appropriations for disaster relief. The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 authorized $2.36 billion to cover certain wildfire- and hurricane-related agricultural losses not covered by crop insurance or by the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). Most recently, in December 2022, Congress appropriated, and you signed into law, $3.74 billion to cover past crop losses from natural disasters that were not covered by other forms of USDA assistance,” continued the senators. 

“To help New England farmers, small businesses, and communities recover from the July 2023 floods, we ask that you include assistance for New England in your supplemental appropriations request. Specifically, we ask that you work closely with affected states to identify the funding sources... and amounts necessary to help the region recover and work with Congress to ensure those funds reach communities in need,” concluded the senators. 

Since the flooding in Western Massachusetts, Senator Warren has taken swift action to bring federal relief to impacted farmers and communities: 

  • On August 1, 2023, Senators Warren and Markey and Representatives Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) and Richard Neal (D-Mass.) applauded the Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) declaration of county disaster designations for seven counties in Western Massachusetts.
  • On July 19, 2023, Senators Warren and Markey and Representatives McGovern and Neal sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux, urging them to designate flood-stricken communities in Western Massachusetts as disaster areas and provide emergency assistance to support local recovery efforts. 
  • On July 15, 2023, Senator Warren and Representative McGovern visited farms impacted by floods to assess damage, and called for federal support for recovery.