The Obama administration this week rejected a request from Iowa officials to declare a federal disaster over the avian influenza outbreak.
Gov. Terry Branstad last month requested a presidential disaster declaration for four counties in the northern and western portions of the state; the request sought unemployment assistance, crisis aid, legal services and management assistance as well as a waiver for tonnage limits on federal highways.
The governor wrote that Iowa was among the states hit hardest by bird flu outbreak, which ultimately affected 15 states and led to the deaths of about 45 million chickens and turkeys.
"Given the unprecedented nature of this disaster, it is my hope that the President will expedite this request to provide federal assistance as soon as possible," Branstad said.
In a letter dated Tuesday, however, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate denied the request.
“Based on our review of all the information available, it has been determined that the damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and the other responding federal agencies,” Fugate wrote.
The state can appeal the decision within 30 days; Branstad’s office indicated that the governor is weighing whether or not an appeal is likely to change the decision.
Meanwhile, the letter drew the ire of both of Iowa's U.S. senators.
"The administration’s own veterinarian said that it was the largest animal health emergency in the country’s history," responded Sen. Chuck Grassley.
Grassley and fellow Republican Joni Ernst each serve on the Senate Agriculture Committee, which held a hearing on the outbreak this week. Egg and poultry industry groups used the occasion to criticize the U.S. Agriculture Department's response to the virus.
Meanwhile, USDA officials told the panel that funding, surveillance and security should be increased in order to avoid another outbreak this fall.