Florida’s two U.S. senators are pushing the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide relief for farmers impacted by Hurricane Irma last year.
On Wednesday, Florida’s two senators--Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio--signed off on a letter to Agriculture Sec. Sonny Perdue on the matter. Other signers included Republican Senators John Cronyn and Ted Cruz of Texas and Bill Cassidy and John Kennedy of Louisiana and Democrat Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris of California. Irma caused around $2.5 billion in damages to Florida farmers and the federal government is expected to provide around $2.36 billion to them in relief.
“Last month, Congress passed the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 that contained, among other things, more than $2.3 billion in disaster assistance funding for farmers impacted by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria and last year’s devastating wildfires. We are concerned that to date there has been no implementation guidance for producers in our states,” the senators wrote. “Producers in a wide range of industries across our states were affected by severe weather disasters in 2017. The citrus industry in Florida was especially devastated by Hurricane Irma because the storm struck just a few weeks before harvest, destroying most of the fruit and many trees as well. For an industry already weakened by citrus greening, this storm has pushed many growers to the brink of financial ruin.
“Responding to the concerns of small and large growers alike, Congress saw fit to include ad-hoc disaster assistance funding separate from established disaster programs,” the senators added. “This legislation provides you with wide authority and maximum flexibility to avoid imposing restrictions in disbursing disaster assistance so that disaster payments could be designed to help all impacted farmers rebound from crop losses in time for the 2018 planting season. It is important that you utilize this authority as granted by Congress and remove any unnecessary restrictions when so many of our rural communities are dependent on the quick recovery of domestic food and fiber crop production.
To that end, we respectfully request an opportunity to directly discuss the implementation of the disaster assistance funding for our states with you,” they wrote Perdue in conclusion. “In the meantime, we ask that you provide an update on any implementation decisions you have made so far.”
Rubio’s office told News4Jax that farmers could be paid by the USDA as early as next week. Perdue spoke with Rubio about the matter on Monday and with Governor Rick Scott on it last week.