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Ag Commissioner, Congressman Decry Lack Of Funding For Citrus

Citrus Greening

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Congressman Dennis Ross on Friday criticized a lack of funding for the state's storm-ravaged citrus industry in the latest disaster-relief package proposed by the White House.

Putnam said a $44 billion request sent to Congress by the White House Office of Management and Budget “puts government reimbursement in front of real taxpayers and completely leaves out the citrus industry.”

“I am confident our delegation will modify this relief package into something meaningful for Florida farmers and ranchers,” Putnam said.

The state has estimated agricultural losses from Hurricane Irma at $2.5 billion. The storm made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties and caused widespread damage as it moved up the state.

Ross, a Lakeland Republican, urged members of the Florida congressional delegation to oppose the new proposal without relief for citrus growers.

“Floridians have been kicked to the curb in this proposed disaster supplemental, which lacks relief for Florida's citrus growers who suffered immensely from this storm,” Ross said in a prepared statement. “The Florida delegation specifically requested this relief because there isn't a citrus grove that wasn't affected, with some experiencing 100 percent losses --- worse than anything the industry has experienced in over 20 years.”

In a post-Hurricane Irma estimate of damages on Oct. 4, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services projected citrus losses at $761 million from Irma, followed by the nursery industry at almost $624 million in losses.

The cattle industry damage assessment was $237.5 million, while the dairy industry was estimated to have $11.8 million in losses.

Members of the state House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness said Thursday those damage estimates are too low.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, estimated that the damages to just the citrus industry could exceed $1 billion.

Putnam and Gov. Rick Scott have pushed to include aid for Florida farmers and ranchers in the current package after failing to secure money in two prior relief packages approved since hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria slammed Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

Scott sent a letter Wednesday to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., that outlined a need for disaster relief for Florida as well as Puerto Rico. The letter also expressed a need for money to speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike around Lake Okeechobee and for Congress to reform the National Flood Insurance Program.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, said in a letter Friday to the U.S. House that the latest package isn't the final request as damage assessments are still underway for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.

"Accordingly, the administration will continue to identify, refine, and articulate additional emergency funding requirements working with the governments of Puerto Rico and USVI," Mulvaney wrote.

The funding request --- to be spread across the Gulf Coast and Caribbean --- includes $1 billion for agriculture. However, the largest part of the overall package, $25.2 billion, would replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Small Business Administration's disaster relief accounts. Another $12 billion would go to create a grant program for flood mitigation projects.

The proposal also seeks $4.6 billion to help repair federal property damaged by the storms.

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