A glitch in the software necessary to administer Emergency Conservation Program (ECP) payments to disaster victims has many local landowners struggling to make loan payments.
“Several people affected by the flood, ice storm and tornado, had to borrow money for equipment and hire people to clean up the debris on their property,” said local landowner Herb Logan.
Many farmers and ranchers borrowed money in anticipation of receiving funds through ECP to help clean up after the quadruple disaster, according to Logan.
“Now their loans are due and they still don't have the ECP check to pay the loan because of some computer glitch,” Logan said. “A lot of my neighbors are in a bind.”
Ottawa and its neighboring counties suffered tragic devastation beginning in July 2007 with a historic flood that left hundreds of people homeless and destroyed profitable crop land along the Neosho River.
The flood was followed by a major ice storms that occurred the first week of December. Several pecan producers lost more than half their crop when ice-laiden branches snapped from trees.
Five months later, an EF-4 tornado ripped across the Oklahoma and Kansas State line killing six people and leveling hundreds of homes.
Tragedy, once again, fell upon farmers and ranchers in that area.
“Most of us spent several thousand dollars to clean up our land,” Logan said. “We were told initially that there were no funds available for assistance but we should go ahead and clean up and keep a log of our expenses.”
In August, the Department of Agriculture announced that $87.5 million had been appropriated to aid farmers and ranchers with land damage repairs.
Ottawa County was awarded more than $1.75 million to assist farmers and ranchers with repairs brought on by the unusually harsh damage to conservation.
“We all got letters requesting that we send a voided check to FSA (Farm Service Agency) along with our logs and we could expect the money to be deposited in our bank accounts within two weeks,” Logan said.
Several weeks have passed with no funds deposited.
“I got a letter this week explaining that I had been allocated ‘X' amount but there was a problem with the software so (the) check couldn't be issued,” Logan said. “My brother-in-law called FSA and was told it could be a month or it could be Christmas before we get our money.”
Logan said a month is too long for many of the landowners.
According to Jim Reece, Oklahoma FSA's executive director, the software problem is at the national level, but there is hope that farmers will be seeing money very soon.
“I don't know much about computer software,” Reece said. “But my understanding is there is a problem with the software rolling over from 2008 to 2009. In order to complete the application process and issue checks, that problem has to be corrected.”
According to Reece, officials in Washington have set one month as an easy target for getting checks to disaster victims.
“Personally, I think a month is outside the target,” Reece said. “I believe we can expect checks to be deposited in a week or two. We wish these things were more expedient but that's not the case.”