Senator Tom Cotton visited Pine Bluff on Tuesday to speak with local officials about the flooding that took place in June along the Arkansas River.
The river was at near-record levels and inundated hundreds of homes in Pine Bluff and Jefferson County. A dollar amount for the damage has not been released.
Cotton took time to speak with officials from FEMA as well as Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington during his visit.
“It is pretty extensive damage, especially to our farmlands and homeowners,” Cotton said. “It is good to have FEMA on the ground to meet with people face to face. We have operation centers in every county that is under the federal disaster declaration. We still have a long way to go to recover from the flood. The water has receded, but we are just making sure that we are getting Arkansans the support they deserve to help them with the circumstances.”
Cotton noted that this year’s flood is much worse than the flood of 2017.
“From what I can tell, the damage from this is going to be more extensive,” Cotton said. “The farm owners and homeowners, and especially the local and county governments, are still taking stock. But it looks like the economic damage from this flood is going to be pretty significant.”
Washington said she was pleased with Cotton’s efforts to visit Pine Bluff, in addition to his efforts to help residents receive some much-needed assistance.
“There is a significance to him being here at this time helping our residents who suffered loss as a result of the devastating flood that we had,” Washington said. “We talked about the levees and the defunct levee boards that we need to reactivate. We also spoke about the fact that Governor (Asa) Hutchinson is starting a levee task force. He has called down and asked if I would serve on that board, so I have agreed to serve.”
Washington said the task force will ensure that proper measures are taken to help mitigate future flooding.
“I think at this point in time with this being so fresh and on everyone’s mind, you have an opportunity to make sure the boards are safe and sound again and have people who are ready to volunteer,” the mayor said.
“You have to seize that moment while you have people who are willing to help. You have to get these people in and make the improvements to make sure that as we face climate changes we don’t know how often we will have big rains like we have had often, so we have to prepare for it. We see that we dropped the ball, so we have to pick it up, fix it up, and shine it up.”
Cotton said he has worked with Hutchinson and President Donald Trump to ensure Arkansans are receiving the assistance they will need as they recover from the flood. He noted that both the governor and the president worked as quickly as possible to get the disaster declaration funds together.
“The president wanted to make sure we are taking care of all Arkansans and that there are no delays or bureaucratic red tape,” Cotton said. “I think it was 48 hours from the time the governor made the request to the approval, which helps individual homeowners get access to the assistance they need.”
There is also a request from the governor to the president for assistance for local governments to help with costs incurred during the flooding.
“We are going forward to mitigate some of the damage that was incurred,” Cotton said. “I hope that will be approved as quickly as the individual assistant programs were. We have a lot of towns like Pine Bluff and counties like Jefferson County that had pretty significant dents to their budget that were not foreseen.”
Cotton said that farmers who suffered due to the flood will be able to receive assistance as well.
“There are already some programs for assistance and loan forgiveness that the USDA and some of its subordinate organizations to make sure that farmers who are not able to make payments on their farms can have those payments extended,” Cotton said.
“There are also programs for equipment and personal property to get aid as well. We are still taking stock of the damage and working with the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue to try to find as much help as we can for our farmers.”