Federal disaster aid headed to south Georgia counties

ATLANTA — Federal aid is on its way to rural Georgia communities hit hard by natural disasters.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced it will provide $150 million in grants through its Communities Facilities Program, earmarked for rural communities to help recovery from hurricanes, fires and other natural disasters.

A total of 68 Georgia counties — including Berrien, Brooks, Colquitt, Cook, Echols, Grady, Thomas and Tift counties — are eligible to apply for the relief funds.

The grants may be used for relief in areas affected by Hurricanes Michael and Florence, wildfires in 2018 and other natural disasters approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and distributed through Rural Development offices.

Estimates from the University of Georgia say that Hurricane Michael caused $2.5 billion in losses to the state’s agricultural industry.

Trey Davis, owner of The Davis Family Farm in Moultrie, said that Hurricane Michael didn’t affect all of his crops, but brought down his cotton yield that year by more than 75%.

Davis said those who qualify for but don't apply for aid are neglecting their operation.

“Most producers, if they do qualify and do receive aid payment, I suspect that it’s either going to pay 2019 operating expenses if they’re carrying back debt or financing financial losses from last year,” Davis said.

Lately the agriculture industry has been suffering, Davis said, so farmers will hope to get these aid payments as cash flow.

The most recent announcement comes one day after the federal department announced that a piece of funds from a large legislation package will be made available to producers affected by natural disasters in 2018 and 2019, including Hurricane Dorian along the East Coast, through the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus.

The funds are part of the $3 billion bipartisan relief package legislation passed Congress passed and President Trump signed in early June.

“I am very pleased to see the funding we fought for begin to make its way to Georgia’s farmers and producers who have been hurting from the effects of Hurricane Michael and other natural disasters,” U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson said in a statement.

Isakson encourages farmers to apply for the assistance.

Both Isakson and U.S. Sen. David Perdue, as well as Gov. Brian Kemp, all cited gridlock in Washington, D.C., as a reason the aid was not available sooner.

“After months of waiting and partisan gridlock in D.C., Georgia farm families are finally receiving the relief that they desperately need ...,” Kemp said in a statement. “Our delegation fought long and hard for this package, and I greatly appreciate their refusal to give in to congressional dysfunction.”

Davis said the stalemate in Washington is not “new news.”

“We have a lot of policy makers who are great champions of agriculture and we really appreciate that,” Davis said. “They’re up against some major hurdles inside The Beltway. We would have like to see it a lot sooner — better late than never. A win is a win.”

Applications for relief aid are accepted through USDA state offices until funds run out.

Riley Bunch covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites.

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