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Accessing Federal, State and Local Disaster Resources

How you can start planning now for assistance to stay in business during the COVID-19 pandemic and recover afterwards.

Based on my experience with previous federal and state disasters, you are more likely to be able to access these resources if you have kept good records. I spoke to Sam Kandel, our local Small Business Development Center (SBDC) business specialist, and also a veteran of managing disaster funding to businesses.

Here are our recommendations:

First, reach out. No one can help you if they don’t know that you are having a problem.  Federal, State and even local disaster assistance dollars become available when the need is large and multiple people/businesses are affected. This doesn’t mean that someone will swoop in and immediately fix your problem or hand you a pile of cash. The wheels of government don’t usually move that fast.  But, what it does mean is that your call will be added to the number of calls around a problem and it is more likely to rise to become a priority for help. It also means that when funding is eventually available you will be in line to be helped.  You should call:

    1. Your insurance agent(s) depending on the type of loss and your insurance (if you have insurance coverage for income loss, this probably should be your first call).
    2. USDA Farm Service Administration (FSA) – either the county or state office (always call this office for a crop or livestock-loss situation) the information that you give them can help your region be declared a federal disaster area by USDA.
    3. Your regional Small Business Development Center office (SBDC) – often your link to state and federal funding outside of USDA.
    4. Your county Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) office – they don’t offer funding, but may be able to guide you to helpful resources.
    5. Your county executive’s office or mayor/town supervisor’s office (depending on their capacity) – start local and work your way up. This can help to make local and state resources available to you.
    6. Your local state legislator – to help trigger state funding and guide you to available resources.


Secondly, keep good financial records and information about your losses.

    1. You should have records on your average yields for the crops that are lost. Take date-stamped pictures of the crops prior to harvest.
    2. Keep records of the crops that were planted or were unable to be planted. This could include documentation of seed/plant purchases, input purchases, labor costs, photos of the crops growing (which you can also reuse for social media).
    3. Take pictures of your losses ASAP and also contact your insurance agent ASAP. You can contact your local cooperative extension office to have one of their ag staff write a letter documenting that they have verified your loss, you can also contact Soil and Water or USDA FSA for help with this.
    4. Keep good sales records. If you are a cash basis business keep records of your cash sales for each market.  Your losses in a disaster will be measured by the revenue that you usually receive.  You will want to have daily or weekly records because you want your current losses to be compared to your revenue at this time of year in prior years.
    5. Keep records of your expenses to mitigate COVID-19. Document and keep receipts for extra cleaning supplies, extra labor costs for cleaning, staff that are out because they are quarantined or ill, and overtime paid to workers to cover for labor shortages.  Keep notes in your recordkeeping system when an expense is unusual for your business and related to COVID, and what it is for.

Funding Sources

Most disaster funding to businesses is in the form of low-interest loans and cost-share payments.  Almost all funding in the short run will come in the form of low-interest loans. SBA has low-interest working capital loans available right now in areas that have been declared federal disaster areas.  Go to https://disasterloan.sba.gov/ela/.  These loans are intended to help you keep going until you are back to normal. USDA FSA is the agency that offers most USDA disaster loans and programs.  Some counties and cities are developing emergency funding. Dollar amounts for emergency funds are unlikely to be large, but could help a new business or a very small business in a community make a rental payment or a utility bill. They often also help with the emergency needs of workers that are displaced.

There will likely be larger federal and state programs for businesses and individuals given the magnitude of the event and its impact on so many businesses, but at the time of this article nothing has been finalized.  Because we don’t know what the programs will look like or what they will cover, it is important for you to communicate your needs and to keep good records so that when a program becomes available it will help you and you can be assisted by it.

Sources for more information:

Visit www.sba.gov for small business emergency loans, available now.

Visit https://www.disasterassistance.gov/ for federal disaster resources.

Visit https://esd.ny.gov/esd-covid-19-related-resources for the New York State economic development office.

Also, your local United Way can help guide you to local resources.  Call 211 to find the United Way near you.

Elizabeth (Liz) Higgins

Elizabeth Higgins is an Extension Ag Business Specialist with the CCE Eastern NY Commercial Hort Team, serving fruit and vegetable growers in 17 counties. She is a veteran of multiple federal disasters (Katrina recovery in Louisiana and Irene/Lee in the Catskills) and has experience in working with individuals, businesses and communities to identify and use disaster programs. She can be contacted at emh56@cornell.edu.