Hurricane Irma: Relief Update and Frustration

Ernie Neffhurricane

From left: Joseph Oglesby, Wesley Sapp and Frank McColm

Representatives of the Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM) updated the Florida Citrus Commission Wednesday on Hurricane Irma reimbursements from the Citrus Recovery Block Grant.

They heard from some commissioners concerned that growers have been waiting a long time for relief funds for the storm that hit Florida hard in September 2017. Commission Chairman Ellis Hunt told the representatives there was “a lot of grower frustration” with the process. Hunt said growers are desperate for relief funds, granted by the federal government, because they need money to fund grove operations. Many growers had greatly reduced crops as a result of Irma and thus had reduced income from the 2017-18 season crop.

Frank McColm, a contractor for DEM, made most of the presentation to the Florida Citrus Commission. He was accompanied by DEM employees Wesley Sapp, the block grant manager, and Joseph Oglesby, the recovery bureau chief. McColm and Sapp summarized their presentation in an interview.

McColm said a total of $340 million is available from the block grant, which comes in three parts. Part 1 is for grove rehabilitation, including resets, nutrition and structural grove damage. Part 2 covers future production loss. Part 3 provides assistance with the cost of crop insurance.

So far, DEM has received 742 applications for relief, and 228 have been completely processed. “We’ve got right around $30 million paid since about the second week of January,” McColm said. “The cap on the money per acre per grower for Part 1 and Part 2 is $1,130.50.”

To receive payments, growers must purchase crop insurance. “The deadline for federal crop insurance is April 15,” McColm said.

Responding to the citrus commissioners’ concerns about grower frustrations in receiving payments, McColm said, “Our focus is getting these resources on the street. And we understand that there were circumstances that were beyond the control of the state that impacted the timeline.”

Sapp added, “The division has maintained its commitment to these growers in making sure that we get the resources that they so desperately need.”

Hear more from McColm and Sapp:

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Ernie Neff

Ernie Neff

Senior Correspondent at Large