Weekly Columns

Rebuilding After the Storm

Senator John Boozman's Column for the Week of June 20, 2011

Jun 21 2011

The recent series of storms across the Natural State brought record flooding and violent tornados that destroyed homes, ruined crops and claimed lives.  I saw some of that damage firsthand during a trip through eastern Arkansas over our last state work period.  During that time, I had the opportunity to visit with local officials, farmers, small business owners and affected citizens to ascertain how devastating these storms had been and provide them an update on how we have been working to help.  I wanted to take this opportunity to share that update with you as well.

My staff and I have been working with state and county officials throughout the assessment process.  We have worked to help answer questions that officials and citizens have about federal assistance during this difficult time.  I also joined with my colleagues in Arkansas’s Congressional Delegation to submit letters to President Obama and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Craig Fugate supporting Governor Beebe’s requests for major disaster declarations for affected counties.  Through these declarations, FEMA is able to provide a myriad of assistance programs for individuals, small businesses and farmers affected by the storms.

The good news is folks are getting help.  According to FEMA, more than 8,900 Arkansans have registered for assistance.  From the feedback I received while visiting Arkansans during that state work period, FEMA has been very responsive and helpful to Arkansans in need and non-governmental agencies have been a huge help as well.  However, if you are experiencing any individual issues with FEMA or any other federal agency that relates to damage from the storms, I do want to hear about it so I can help.  If you feel you qualify for FEMA assistance, you can begin the process by registering for assistance by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 1-800-462-7585, visiting http://www.disasterassistance.gov/, or via web-enabled phone m.fema.gov.

Arkansas is a predominantly rural state and we rely heavily on our farmers as an engine for our state’s economy.  This series of disasters has exceeded the ability of our local governments to respond and has severely impacted our agricultural sector.  Despite state and local efforts to clean up and rebuild, greater federal assistance is needed to help communities recover.  That is why I signed on as an original cosponsor of the “Southeastern Disaster Tax Relief Act.”

In recent years, tax relief and incentives have been provided on a case-by-case basis to help rebuild after several major disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina.  The “Southeastern Disaster Tax Relief Act” extends approximately 20 of these tax credits and incentives to those affected by recent tornados, severe storms and/or flooding that swept through the southeast in April and May.  For example, the extension of these provisions would encourage charitable giving, provide incentives to damaged small businesses to retain employees, allow those adversely affected by the storms to write-off certain clean-up costs, and provide penalty-free early withdrawal from retirement plans and education tax credits, among other relief. 

For many of our families, the devastation that we’ve had is equivalent to Hurricane Katrina our other natural disasters.  The provisions of the “Southeaster Disaster Tax Relief Act” would help Arkansans, who lost so much as a result of the tornados and floods, rebuild their lives.  I will continue to work with my colleagues to get this bill passed through Congress and with the rest of the Arkansas Congressional Delegation to get our communities all they need to be strong once again.