More than 1,500 Iowa workers are expected to lose their jobs as a result of the bird flu outbreak and the cost to the state's egg industry alone will exceed $1 billion, Gov. Terry Branstad said Thursday in a letter seeking a major disaster declaration from President Barack Obama.
The lost jobs represent about half of Iowa's workers in commercial poultry production operations, Branstad said.
A presidential disaster declaration would draw federal help in coordinating recovery efforts.
Branstad, in the letter addressed to Obama and the regional administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, asked for the declaration to cover Buena Vista, Sioux, Webster and Wright counties, the four hardest hit in the bird flu outbreak. Branstad said additional counties may be added.
"I have determined that this incident is of such severity and magnitude that effective response is beyond the capabilities of the state and the affected local governments and that supplementary federal assistance is necessary," Branstad said.
The outbreak affects 77 infected sites in 18 Iowa counties. An estimated 33.7 million turkeys and chickens have died or were euthanized to prevent the virus from spreading further. The value of the lost birds is estimated at $83.6 million, Branstad said.
Calling it the worst animal disease outbreak in modern U.S. agriculture history, Branstad said the loss of production to Iowa's egg industry alone is projected to exceed $1 billion. Iowa produces more than 16 billion eggs a year, about 17 percent of the nation's total.
Branstad said 438 workers already have sought unemployment benefits from the four worst hit counties. As cleanup and disposal of dead birds continues, many workers are still employed. However, once the disposal process is completed hundreds more workers will not be needed until the turkey and chicken barns are back in operation.
Additional layoffs are expected by August and are expected to reach about 1,500 in the large commercial operations. Another 200 in small operations also will be unemployed. In addition, an estimated 100 people in the turkey industry who are self-employed will be out of work but ineligible for conventional unemployment compensation, Branstad said.
Egg-laying operations are expected to take one to two years to return to full operation once they are declared free of virus and begin restocking. Turkey barns can take from 12 to 14 weeks to recover once cleared for operation, he said.
Branstad is requesting unemployment assistance, crisis counseling, disaster case management and disaster legal services assistance. He said federal case management will give those affected a single point of contact to help access to a broad range of recovery resources.
"Through individual case managers, those impacted can get assistance in developing a recovery plan specifically tailored to their needs. This type of assistance, though difficult to quantify currently, is one of the most important recovery programs needed regarding this disaster," he said.
The governor said a major disaster declaration also would allow the Federal Highway Administration to issue weight limit waivers on federal highways which will help in the disposal of millions of dead birds, some of which are being trucked to landfills and incinerators.
Nationally, 48 million birds have been killed or euthanized in 15 states as the virus swept from the West Coast into the Midwest this spring.