Florida’s agriculture industry moved closer to getting some much needed relief out off Washington to help the state’s farmers and growers recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Irma.
The U.S. House of Representatives approved an $81 billion dollar hurricane assistance bill on Thursday that includes $2.6 in agricultural relief for Florida.
“Today’s vote is an important first step to get Florida’s farmers, ranchers and growers, who suffered more than $2.5 billion damages from Hurricane Irma, long-awaited and desperately needed relief,” said state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in a statement released Thursday evening. “Without this emergency assistance, Florida agriculture cannot fully recover from the unprecedented damage it suffered.”
The measure still needs the approval of the Senate. A vote there might not come until after the holidays.
“But even with today’s vote, much work remains, and I will continue to work with leaders in Washington to make sure this emergency assistance becomes a reality,” Putnam added.
Of the $2.5 billion dollars in damages to agriculture caused when Irma hit Florida in September, the share of the damage was to citrus — about $760 million.
The storm’s winds and rains ripped fruit from their branches and flooded a number of citrus groves causing permanent damage to trees.
Putnam has worked with Gov. Rick Scott and members of Florida’s Congressional Delegation over the past several weeks to secure assistance for the state’s agricultural community. Two previous relief packages approved by Congress failed to include disaster assistance money for Florida’s growers and farmers.
The relief bill was removed from the short-term funding resolution approved by Congress to keep the federal government open through the middle of January. Had it been kept in the resolution it would have assured approval of the agricultural assistance package this week.
“I have been repeatedly told and promised that federal aid would be on the way,” said U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney in a prepared statement.
Rooney is a member of the appropriations subcommittee on agriculture and helped lead efforts in the bill’s passage.
“The bill released this week containing my request to help Florida’s farmers recover from the storm became a piece in a political and partisan game,” Rooney said in a prepared statement. “The political reality is that the only way this disaster funding was going to be signed into law before Christmas was for it to be combined with the continuing resolution.”