USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack has announced $19.7 million of financial and technical assistance to help communities rebuild and repair damages caused by flooding, drought and other natural disasters.

"A strong safety net is important to the long-term success of American communities," Vilsack said in a news release. "To keep America's lands safe for the public, and ensure continued strong growth in the rural economy, USDA responds to disasters across the country, ranging from record floods and droughts to tornadoes, with direct support through disaster assistance programs."

Funds are made available through the Natural Resources Conservation Service's (NRCS) Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program.

Earlier this year, NRCS distributed $215 million to 26 states to assist in disaster recovery projects around the nation. The $19.7 million announced this week will meet additional needs expressed by states. Congress set up EWP to respond to emergencies created by natural disasters.

In this year's appropriations, Congress provided funds to put towards wait-listed projects from presidentially or locally declared disasters that occurred during 2011.

Disaster recovery projects are administered by NRCS in partnership with local sponsors, often municipal or county governments. NRCS pays up to 75 percent of the construction costs while the remaining 25 percent is obtained by local sponsors. When funding is dedicated to a project, contracts for construction work are awarded to local companies, spurring job creation.

Typical projects funded under EWP can include removing debris clogging waterways, protecting eroded stream banks, reseeding burned or eroded areas, and in some cases, purchasing floodplain easements on eligible land. To learn more about EWP or see a list of the states and their funding allocations, visit their webpage.