(Jan. 29, PACKER WEB EXCLUSIVE) For the second time in as many weeks, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was in the San Joaquin Valley Thursday. This time, he had reinforcements.

Schwarzenegger — with Henry Renteria, director of the governor’s Office of Emergency Services, Department of Food and Agriculture Sec. A.G. Kawamura, Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner and valley lawmakers in tow — met in Dinuba with citrus industry and labor representatives along with local government officials.

During the 30-minute, closed-door meeting, Schwarzenegger said he and the state officials updated the group on the additional steps being taken to ease the effects of the January freeze.

At a post-meeting news conference, Schwarzenegger revealed he had issued an executive order waiving the one-week wait to receive unemployment benefits. He said 19 one-stop assistance centers had been opened to provide information and guidance to freeze victims.

“It is critical that federal, state and local governments do everything in our power to help the impacted workers and communities recover as soon as possible,” Schwarzenegger said.

Poizner said he has issued a 10-point bulletin directing growers on how to file insurance claims, stationed staff members temporarily in Fresno to help valley growers file claims and created a task force in Sacramento to pressure insurance carriers to expedite payment of claims.

Secretary Kawamura said a just-completed survey of the nursery industry indicated the freeze resulted in a $418 million loss.

“It now looks as if the $1 billion dollar damage estimate for agriculture will be exceeded,” Kawamura said.

Renteria said the freezes of 1990 and 1998 gave his office the experience it needed to deal with this year’s freeze.

“We know what’s ahead of us,” Renteria said.

Schwarzenegger said the bipartisan effort is working smoothly and making progress.

“Whatever the valley needs – growers, workers, businesses, whoever – we’re here to help,” Schwarzenegger said.

The meeting and news conference were held at the Dinuba Vocational Center, a portion of which had been transformed into one of the 19 assistance centers. Dinuba is in Tulare County, the state’s No. 1 citrus county and, subsequently, the county that suffered the greatest crop loss.