Acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner approved the state of California's request to operate a Disaster Food Stamp Program (DFSP) in San Bernardino and is prepared to approve Riverside County. Both programs will run from Oct. 22 to Nov. 20, 2007. This is in addition to the DFSP approved for San Diego County.

"The Agriculture Department joins many other government agencies in providing both direct fire fighting support and assistance to individuals impacted by the fires," said Conner. "We will continue to work closely with state and local officials in California to help meet their needs."

The USDA Forest Service (FS), in conjunction with other responding interagency state and federal agencies, is mobilizing five Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams. Members of these teams will assess threats to the burned areas, including potential mudslides, and will identify stabilization and rehabilitation needs for the land.

USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) is dispatching Damage Survey Assessment (DSA) teams to the burn areas to determine damage to natural resources, including impairments to watersheds as a result of the fires. The surveys will begin after safety officials give NRCS permission to enter those areas. DSAs in Los Angeles and Ventura County are expected to begin at the end of next week. Other county DSAs will begin in approximately 10-14 days. USDA will not begin crop loss assessments until all human needs are met and the area is determined to be safe.

Disaster Food Stamp Program

The Disaster Food Stamp Program approved allows people who ordinarily might not qualify for food stamp benefits to be eligible if they had expenses related to protecting, repairing, or evacuating their homes; or if they lost food or income as a result of the disaster. In the DFSP, eligibility and procedural requirements are minimized to enable local agencies to serve large numbers of people quickly and provide a one-month benefit. California estimates that there may be about 11,500 applicants for DFSP in San Bernardino County.

People who already are participating in the Food Stamp Program may be eligible for additional benefits under the DFSP if they suffered a disaster-related expense and file a simple affidavit.

Disaster benefits are provided like regular program benefits — through a debit card that can be used at authorized food retailers to buy food. These systems are commonly referred to as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) systems.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service can authorize the issuance of emergency food stamp benefits when the president declares a major disaster. FNS works closely with states to prepare plans for the Disaster Food Stamp Program.