Disaster Relief Discussed at Annual Meeting

Josh McGillEvents, hurricane, Legislative

The Highlands Country Citrus Growers Association (HCCGA) held its annual meeting in early March, celebrating 33 years of service to its membership. The event turned out a packed house in Sebring, with growers optimistic despite a challenging season.

Despite a challenging year, the annual meeting drew a great crowd that is determined to press forward with citrus production.

Matt Joyner, executive vice president and chief executive officer of Florida Citrus Mutual, spoke during the event and outlined a busy list of priorities the organization is focused on currently. High on the list is disaster relief after Hurricanes Ian and Nicole.

While $3.7 billion in funds were included in the large omnibus legislation that Congress passed late last year, special language to create block grants was not included. Such language helped speed up allocation of funds after Hurricane Irma in 2017.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) felt they didn’t have that specific authority from Congress to provide block grants. That has put us in a bit of a dilemma and delayed our ability to get funds to our industry from the omnibus,” Joyner said.

“Congressman Scott Franklin (R-18) has introduced a very simple bill that will provide the specific authority that USDA needs. We are grateful he was willing to get on this issue quickly, and it is a very bipartisan bill. We are optimistic it will make it through Congress and are pushing hard to get that done.”

Meanwhile, Joyner said Mutual is working with USDA to look for ways to get expedited funds to the industry under existing programs and authority. He said he believes progress is being made in getting those funds secured after constructive conversations with USDA.

Congressman Franklin also spoke at the annual meeting. He noted that with large federal packages like the omnibus, the money is spent but often doesn’t find an easy path to the people it is meant to benefit. Such is the case with citrus disaster relief. After running into delays with USDA, Franklin introduced the disaster relief legislation.

“We pressed ahead with this bill and currently have 27 of 28 members of the Florida delegation supporting it. Now that is looks like the bill will go to floor for a vote, USDA says they are finding sources of funds. I don’t care where the money comes from or who gets the credit as long as it goes to where it is needed,” Franklin said.

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