Due to the large amounts of damage inflicted by Hurricane Irene, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is prepared to provide as much assistance as possible to Vermont and the other eleven states affected by the hurricane. USDA is ready to provide food, emergency assistance and other resources to the affected areas, Vilsack said at a recent press conference. Vilsack plans to provide assistance to homeowners, farmers and ranchers, as well as the general community. Assistance to Homeowners The USDA has been encouraging Vermonters affected by Hurricane Irene to immediately apply for funding assistance under rural, single-family housing loans, and grant programs. These funds can be used for new housing or repair and rehabilitation of current housing. For home loans, the USDA will assist through expediting lender approval and providing underwriting services to streamline the loan processing. Individuals who currently have a USDA loan and need payment assistance are encouraged to contact the Centralized Servicing Center at 800-414-1226. Many homebuyers who hear of the USDA home loan program either do not know much about the program, or sometimes think it is only for farmers; however, this is not the case. Over 50 million people in the United States are considered to be living in a rural area and are possibly eligible for one of the last available zero down lending programs out there. It is best to contact a USDA loan specialist to determine your eligibility. Farm and Ranch Assistance The USDA is also encouraging farmers who have crop damage or physical damage to contact their local Farm Service Agency (FSA) center as soon as possible, due the high volume of calls coming in. The FSA offers assistance through supplemental revenue assistance programs, noninsured crop disaster assistance programs, emergency assistance for livestock, livestock producers with abnormally high mortality rates, debris assistance programs, as well as debt relief for people who currently have FSA direct loans. Community Assistance The USDAs Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) state operations are prepared to start working with local communities to fill Emergency Watershed Protection requests in Hurricane Irene disaster areas. This program provides assistance for property owners whose land and lives are threatened by flooding and erosion due to Hurricane Irene. Owners and users of public, private, or tribal lands are eligible for Emergency Watershed Protection if the watershed area has sustained damage from the storm. The NRCS is available to immediately fund projects necessary to protect and maintain life and property that is in the affected area. For instance, if your area has excessive debris or blocked waterways, assistance is rapidly available. The USDA is encouraging homeowners, farmers, ranchers, and producers to contact their local Rural Development office for housing, business, or community assistance information or their local NRCS office for debris removal. Matt Polsky is a real estate commentator associated with VA Mortgage Center, the nations leading dedicated provider of VA home loans.