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Congress pushes USDA to offer quicker assistance to farmers


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Support is growing for giving Florida farmers greater access to block grants after hurricanes or other disasters that devastate crops.

This week, Florida lawmakers from both sides introduced the Restore Agricultural Investment, Stability and Expansion Act. The legislation could give the U.S. Department of Agriculture standing authority to issue grants to farmers and growers in the wake of natural disasters. The bill would have a significant effect since agriculture and forestry are the highest-paying industries in Clay County.

U.S. Reps. Kat Cammack, Scott Franklin, Darren Soto and Debbie Wasserman Schultz introduced the measure together.

“When extreme weather threatens our crops, as is often the case in the Sunshine State, we must be prepared to help our farmers recover and continue the important work of feeding our nation,” said Cammack, a Gainesville Republican who used to represent Clay County.

Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, co-chairs the Florida congressional delegation. She said the agriculture industry was important for both parties to protect.

“Congress needs to have the back of America’s farmers, and I’m proud to work across the aisle to make sure the crops and agricultural resources that fuel this great nation and its families are protected from increasingly extreme weather threats, something our own citrus industry faces in Florida,” she said.

“From timber to food on our tabletops, the federal government needs every tool at hand to help farmers recover from natural disasters.”

The bill comes at a critical time for Florida growers after Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole collectively wiped out 90% of the state’s citrus production last year. More than 375,000 acres of farmland were impacted, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. State estimates put industrywide losses at more than $675 million.

“After extreme hurricane seasons like the one Florida experienced last year, growers cannot afford to navigate bureaucratic obstacles to get the help they need,” said Franklin, a Lakeland Republican whose Florida Heartland district was hit especially hard.

In June, the U.S. House passed a Franklin-led bill allowing block grants to be issued in the wake of last year’s storm. Similarly, Congress allowed such federal grants to Florida farmers in 2018 after Hurricane Irma swept through much of the state’s rural areas.

Franklin said the power needs to be permanent for the USDA to employ at its discretion.

“I’m pleased that earlier this month the House unanimously passed our bill to give the USDA block grant authority to expedite disaster relief for agricultural producers still recovering from Hurricanes Ian and Nicole,” Franklin said. “This commonsense initiative would make this authority permanent, ensuring the federal government can respond as quickly as possible to future emergencies.”

Soto, a Kissimmee Democrat, serves with Cammack on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee. Soto said it’s important the federal government help keep a needed industry thriving as farmers face serious challenges.

“In Central Florida, our farmers, ranchers and growers have struggled after devastating hurricanes,” Soto said. “As these natural disasters get stronger, we must work to ensure that they have the resources to recover, maintain their livelihoods, and keep feeding America.”

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets, including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.