With a meeting set for today to kick off the formal federal disaster assistance process in north-central Montana, officials still are working to get more information and find more aid for people impacted by flooding.
Montana Disaster and Emergency Services is holding six kick-off briefings around the state to identify governments and groups needing assistance from the flooding that led to a presidential disaster declaration for the state, with this morning’s meeting that began at 9 a. m. at the Hill County Electric Hospitality Room.
The disaster declaration was for public assistance only, and governments and eligible non-profit entities were to attend the meeting to identify what groups would need assistance, and how they would go about the process of applying for it.
The state also is looking into individual assistance for private property owners. If enough of a percentage of private property owners suffered damage, Montana may qualify for federal assistance for damage to residences and businesses, as well.
Blaine County Commissioner Vic Miller, the county government’s public information officer, said Monday that the county, and Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, still are seeking assessments from people who suffered damage to property or business interruptions due to the flooding.
Data collected will be submitted to the proper channels to see if enough damage was suffered for Gov. Brian Schweitzer to apply for individual assistance in addition to the public assistance.
Miller said farmers and ranchers should talk to appropriate agencies such as the Farm Service Agency or the Natural Resources Conservation Service about submitting agricultural damage claims.
He added that application forms for Blaine County are available at the city halls in Harlem and Chinook or the Blaine County Courthouse. Forms for Fort Belknap can be obtained by contacting Gilbert "Buddy" Horn at 353-3100.
The individual disaster claim gathering has been occurring statewide, with Hill County DES Coordinator Joe Parenteau also collecting claims.
The state’s U. S. lawmakers also are continuing to push for additional assistance. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., announced Monday that the NRCS has extended its deadline for Montana farmers to sign up for financial assistance planting cover crops where flooding has prevented them from planting spring crops.
NRCS extended the deadline for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program Special Initiative from June 24 to Friday July 8.
Montana agricultural producers can use the EQIP Special Initiative to help pay for planting cover crops to protect against soil erosion, increase soil health, provide cover and food for many wildlife species, and provide forage for livestock.
Cropland and hay land that could have or would have been planted to a crop, but were not due to weather-caused delays, may be eligible for that program.
Baucus said he sent a letter to NRCS Chief Dave White last week asking for the extension.
“Recent flooding has hit at the heart of rural Montana communities and devastated precious farmland, ” he said in his release Monday announcing the extension. “We’re looking under every rock to find options for supporting Montana’s recovery. EQIP is just one more tool our farmers have at their disposal, and this extension will make sure folks who want this help can take advantage.
“As we continue to press our federal partners for additional support, I urge Montana farmers, ranchers, businesses owners and communities to contact my office; we’re here to help in any way we can, ” he added.