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                     Office of the Press Secretary
                        (Little Rock, Arkansas)
For Immediate Release                                     August 6, 1999


The President today anounced the establishment of a task force to coordinate the federal response to the crippling drought that continues to grip much of the nation. He directed that the White House immediately convene the relevant cabinet agencies to coordinate Administration efforts to respond to the needs of millions of Americans affected by the drought. White House Deputy Chief of Staff Maria Echaveste will meet on Monday morning with senior officials from the core group of Cabinet agencies that are charged with providing relief. Members of the Task Force will be comprised of representatives from the departments of Interior, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, HHS, Energy, EPA, FEMA, OMB, SBA and GSA.

The Task Force will generate a plan to insure that the sustained federal response will address breaking emergencies swiftly and effectively, while preparing a more comprehensive response for the long-term challenge posed by recurring weather problems. To help ensure that victims are aware of assistance that may be available to them, the Task Force will also produce a comprehensive catalogue of the extensive federal efforts undertaken thus far to address the crisis.

To date, a number of federal agencies have played important roles throughout the current drought, providing emergency relief and forecasting the possibility of additional problems, and trying to help states and communities cope with the current crisis gripping much of the nation. The Department of Health and Human Services has provided over $155 million in Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP) money to help pay for air conditioners, fans, and electric bills to those in dire need in 28 states. The Secretary of Agriculture, Dan Glickman, continues to tour agricultural sectors hardest hit by the drought. Secretary Glickman has declared the entire state of West Virginia and numerous counties in surrounding states crop disaster areas, making low-interest loans available to those farmers in need. The Small Business Administration is also providing assistance in the form of low-interest loans to those businesses needing financial assistance. The National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration has been tracking the drought from the outset and has formally announced that, in Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Rhode Island, this is the worst drought on record. As disruptions become even more common, they will demand a more coordinated national government.