OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) -- The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated two counties in the Oklahoma Panhandle for disaster relief benefits due to the severe drought in the area.

Congressman Frank Lucas issued a statement Thursday praising the designation for Cimarron and Texas counties in far northwest Oklahoma.

Lucas and U.S. Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn last week sent a letter Thursday to Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer seeking disaster relief for nine counties in northwest Oklahoma.

Last month, the U.S. Drought Monitor upgraded the situation in the Panhandle to its most severe drought rating, which is "exceptional."

A disaster declaration makes farm operators in those counties eligible for low-interest loans through the Farm Service Agency's Emergency Loan Program and payments from other federal programs.

It also provides federal tax considerations to ranchers who sell livestock early because of drought conditions.

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