Federal agencies pledge another $110 million in drought aid

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Federal agencies pledged another $110 million in aid Friday to help states struggling with the crippling drought after President Barack Obama talked to leaders from seven western states.

The president met by phone and video link for about an hour with the governors of Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, and Wyoming and with the lieutenant governor of Utah, according to the White House.

The funding announced Friday includes:

    • $18 million for a jobs program to help as many as 1,000 Californians who are unemployed because of the drought get temporary jobs doing drought-related work or as part of programs to help make communities more drought-resistant. The administration cited a recent University of California study estimating 18,000 lost jobs in California.

“It also provides a much needed infusion of economic support right back into these communities that need it,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Portia Wu on a conference call with reporters.

  • $30 million to extend a program so farmers who suffer one or two years of exceptionally low production because of the drought do not lose crop insurance.
  • $10 million to reduce the threat of wildfires by cleaning up landscapes so they are less prone to fires.
  • $6.5 million in grants for water management improvement projects.
  • $7 million to address the drought-related needs of water utilities and households.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Environmental Protection Administrator Gina McCarthy, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate, Deputy Interior Secretary Mike Connor and Wu were among those on the call.

Representatives of those agencies said the $110 million in new spending comes on top of $190 million already pledged in short-term help for the states and in addition to other programs aimed at making long-term changes.

California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, said his state has already seen more than half a million acres gone fallow and thousands of job losses.

“This aid will provide new opportunities for farmworkers and rural communities most impacted by the drought and make the state more water-efficient and drought resilient,” he said in a statement.

Officials also used the call to promote legislation by congressional Republicans to speed up timber harvests and the removal of underbrush that the U.S. Forest Service deemed necessary, which the Obama administration supports.

The administration has warned of potentially catastrophic wildfires this summer in the Southwest and Northwest, and is forecasting costs of more than $200 million above the budget for federal firefighting.

Forest Service officials say the budgeting system requires them to shift money from fire-prevention efforts to firefighting, exacerbating fire problems.