Magazine article Policy & Practice

USDA, Louisiana and APHSA Collaborate in Hurricane Relief

Magazine article Policy & Practice

USDA, Louisiana and APHSA Collaborate in Hurricane Relief

Article excerpt

Shortly after Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana in August, the state's Department of Social Services (DSS) began collaborating with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Hundreds of thousands of people were eligible for the state's disaster food stamp program, and Louisiana needed help.

Eric Bost, undersecretary for the USDA Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, visited Louisiana and met with Ann Silverberg Williamson, secretary for Louisiana DSS. Bost pledged all of the resources the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) had available to help.

That was the beginning. The result--thanks to additional collaboration with the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) and long hours from numerous state and federal employees--was 115 workers from six states working side-by-side with Louisiana employees delivering disaster food stamp benefits. (Editor's Note: Another 48 workers from four other states--Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky and Maryland--worked in Alabama.)

APHSA helped by identifying what states could send employees to Louisiana. The organization sent an all-points bulletin to state human service commissioners and secretaries.

"We did a kind of match-making," said Gary Cyphers, deputy executive director for APHSA communications and member services. "We brokered the needs of Louisiana with the needs of the states that were offering workers."

Many states quickly responded with a desire to help, but indicated that they could only help through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) process. Everyone involved quickly learned that an EMAC is the mechanism that allows state-to-state mutual aid when a disaster occurs. The process ensures that states offering assistance are reimbursed for their costs and uses an already-in-place administrative structure.

While it was difficult to navigate the EMAC process for the first time, APHSA, FNS and the Louisiana DSS quickly learned the system. After the EMAC was approved, the states and the FNS Southwest Region made airline, rental car, and lodging arrangements. Lodging was a challenge because Louisiana hotels were full with hurricane evacuees. The FNS Southwest Region worked with faith-based organizations to house the workers in private homes, churches, and shelters.

On September 14 and 15, 53 employees from Iowa, Kansas, South Dakota and Oklahoma arrived in Baton Rouge, La. …

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