Freeze wins Bush disaster declaration



San Luis Obispo County farmworkers and others affected by January's freeze will be able to apply for federal disaster-related unemployment assistance following a presidential declaration.

President Bush's announcement follows an Agriculture Department decision last month that offered low-interest loans to farmers, but only for those unable to get loans elsewhere.

The news drew approval from both of the state's senators, from area congressmembers, and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had all sought the declaration. Still, the benefits that will come with the declaration won't be as extensive as those offered after some other disasters, and it will apply to fewer counties than Schwarzenegger had sought.

The freeze, which spanned several nights and caused more than $1 billion worth of economic damage statewide, is considered the most extensive and destructive to hit the Central Coast in decades.

Under the declaration, people who lost their jobs directly because of the freeze will be able to apply for federal disaster unemployment assistance, which provides up to 26 weeks of benefits. The Agriculture Department is also sending surplus food to Central Coast food banks.

Citrus orchards were particularly hard hit, but the freeze caused trouble for others as well. Some 500 trees on San Luis Obispo city property suffered frost damage during January's cold snap and the city is seeking state aid to deal with them, said Ron Combs, city arborist.

Combs said many of the city's ficus trees were damaged and will have to be pruned back before dead branches start to fall on city streets.

"It's not how cold it gets but how long it stays cold," Combs said. "This was an exceptionally bad year."

It was particularly hard on newer and younger trees, Combs said, noting that roughly five percent of all city trees were affected in some form.


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