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Post-Irma Ag Relief Could Come Soon

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Amy Green/WMFE
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Florida farmers awaiting federal disaster relief to help cover losses from Hurricane Irma last September may learn more details this week about the highly anticipated program. The $2.36 billion Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP) is expected to offer a direct-payments model that would not hold growers to traditional payment limitations and would establish a state-managed program to handle tree losses.

Gov. Rick Scott, Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam and members of Florida’s congressional delegation have lobbied U.S. Agriculture Commissioner Sonny Perdue to speed up the release of the money amid increasing frustration from the state’s citrus growers awaiting federal assistance related to the deadly hurricane.

Florida’s agriculture industry took a $2.5 billion hit from Irma in September, according to an October estimate from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

The state’s struggling citrus industry accounted for $761 million of those losses, according to the initial estimate.

On Wednesday, Perdue told members of the U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture that details of the program to distribute funds to farmers impacted by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, along with California wildfires, should be finalized this week.

Perdue also told the subcommittee that farmers should be able to start applying by late June to early July. Earlier this month, he said the program would be ready by July 16.

“We’re trying to design a program that takes care of the fruit loss,” Perdue said last week.

The money is part of the $90 billion disaster-relief package signed by President Donald Trump on Feb. 9. The funding included $28 billion for block grants for housing and infrastructure and $23.5 billion to replenish FEMA’s recovery and repair programs.