The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
Via Conference Call
6:31 P.M. EST
MR. LEHRICH: Hey, everybody, thanks for joining us today. I hope those of you who are on the East Coast are staying warm and dry. As a reminder, this call is embargoed until 6:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, which means it's not in tomorrow's newspapers but can be online at 6:00 a.m. Eastern tomorrow morning. The call will be on the record with that embargo.
As you know, the President will be in the Fresno, California area tomorrow, where he'll be talking about the severe droughts that are affecting much of California. To talk about some of the new announcements the President will have tomorrow and related issues we've got Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and Dr. John Holdren, who is the Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, and is going to talk to you about some of the science behind the weather we're seeing here.
So, with that, I will turn it over to Secretary Vilsack.
SECRETARY VILSACK: Matt, thank you very much. And thanks to everybody on the call. And certainly thanks to John Holdren for doing this as well. Let me just preview for you the President's focus on this California drought situation, which is really impacting California with its worst drought in over a hundred years, and it's also impacting obviously other states as well.
Tomorrow the President will meet with producers and those who have been impacted and affected by the drought. He'll have an opportunity to observe the impacts on the ground, and he'll I think offer a message of hope and a message that the federal government will do all that it can to try to alleviate some of the stress connected with this drought.
The President, last week in Michigan, signed the 2014 Agricultural Act, which is the farm bill, and in the farm bill it restored disaster assistance for livestock producers which had been dormant since October of 2011. The President will direct the Department of Agriculture to accelerate in an historic effort to get the disaster programs now authorized under the farm bill to a point where farmers and producers in California and across the country will be able to apply for disaster assistance.
Normally, this process takes anywhere from six to eight months. The President is going to direct us to get it done within 60 days so that within 60 days, by April 15th or there abouts, farmers and producers will be able to make applications for livestock assistance and should receive checks shortly thereafter.
This will not only impact folks in California but it will also have the opportunity to provide help and assistance to producers in the Dakotas who suffered from historic snowstorms last fall, and for those who suffered through the 2012 droughts across the country and other isolated situations.
We anticipate and expect that with this announcement that once applications are filed and money distributed, it will mean somewhere in the neighborhood of $100 million of assistance to California producers and probably likely nearly a billion dollars of assistance to producers across the country.
The President is also going to announce additional conservation assistance at a time when water is scarce and when livestock producers are challenged, and with those who are faced with drought conditions on their land and the possibility of losing very precious soil. The President will be announcing an additional $15 million in targeted conservation assistance for those communities and areas that have been most affected by drought. Five million dollars of that will be directed to California. This is in addition to the $20 million that was announced last week. An additional $10 million will then be given and made available to producers in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico. These resources will be above and beyond what normally these states have received and these producers would receive for assistance.
The President will also announce an additional $5 million in targeted emergency watershed protection -- I should back up and indicate that the $15 million that's being announced in targeted conservation assistance is really designed to provide opportunities for producers to conserve more effectively their water resources, to utilize the money to impact and reduce soil erosion as a result of the drought, and potentially use the proceeds to improve livestock access to water.
Five million dollars in targeted emergency watershed protection assistance will also be announced to California, and this is designed to specifically stabilize stream banks, to replant upland strips that have been stripped of their stations as a result of the drought. This is also a soil conservation and water quality initiative.
In addition, we recognize -- the President definitely recognizes that droughts not only impact producers but also impacts the families of those who work in these orchards and with these growers and producers. A lot of folks will not be employed, or if they're employed, they won't work the number of hours that they would normally work. So we're going to make sure that we provide assistance and help to those who might need the help of food banks to be able to provide food for their families. Sixty million dollars will be made available to food banks in the state of California to help families who have been economically impacted by the drought.
And as summer approaches, we realize that it may be a challenge for children to have access to meals, and so we will be working with the state of California and the Department of Agriculture to establish 600 additional summer meal sites to make sure that youngsters in this state who have been impacted in drought-stricken areas will have some assistance and some help during the summer months.
The President is also going to follow the lead of Governor Brown in California when he declared state agencies to focus on drought emergency relief last month. Governor Brown basically encouraged those in California to utilize water more effectively and efficiently. The President will direct tomorrow federal facilities which are located in California to immediately curb water use, including a moratorium on water usage for new and nonessential landscaping projects, to redouble our efforts to look at longer-term water use reduction operations and technologies at federal facilities.
And the President will direct the Department of Interior to continue to take executive action to work with water contractors and communities to speed up changes in -- obviously to maintain important environmental safeguards, but to make sure that key water projects that could be encouraged and moved along are done so. NOAA, EPA, the Bureau of Reclamation, Fish and Wildlife Services will be working daily with their state counterparts to try to make sure that everything that can be done to move water projects forward is being done in an effective and efficient way.
And we'll obviously continue to invest in climate resilience. The President has been very focused on it, directing these agencies to be looking at this. The USDA announced that there is a climate change hub, one of which -- sub-hub will be located in Davis, California. That sub-hub will be doing research and assessing the vulnerabilities specifically of California to the change in …
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