Federal disaster relief for those who suffered losses from Hurricane Matthew is on the way, but U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson doesn’t know how soon farmers and others will receive checks.
In an interview with Southeast Farm Press following his address to the Southern Peanut Growers annual conference in Palm City Beach, Fla., the Georgia Republican said the money is appropriated and aid is coming, but it must flow through the various government agencies that determine who is eligible to receive emergency funding. The congressman said this is a slow process, but aid is on the way.
President Donald Trump signed the $19.1 billion relief package on June 6 which targets federal funds to Georgia farmers and others who suffered catastrophic losses from Hurricane Michael and other natural disasters over the past two years.
Ferguson said federal disaster aid will go to both farmers and communities impacted by Michael.
“As painful as it was going through the appropriations process, we actually wound up with some additional wins for our Georgia folks and we are in a better position than when we originally started. We were able to get some aid for Georgia blueberry farmers who suffered losses from a separate event going back a couple of years ago, making this package retroactive. The overall aid package does address a variety of crops,” Ferguson said.
Importantly, Ferguson said direct grants have been approved for communities impacted by Michael to rebuild roads and other infrastructure. He said this aid is vital because communities in the Southeast were wiped completely off the map.
However, Ferguson said the appropriations process took too long due to partisan politics. He stressed that the process needs to be reformed for federal funding for recovery from future disasters. “If you’re in an area that’s effected, it becomes bipartisan,” he stressed.
The problem is that these emergency appropriations don’t go through a normal legislative process. Often, Ferguson said funding is attached to another bill which is inefficient and a “bad way to run a railroad.”
“We need to put some fairly tight constraints on what money can be spent on what projects, determine who’s at the table and set a timeline going forward,” he said.
Ferguson said for future disaster relief aid, Congress needs to establish a bipartisan, bicameral select committee on appropriations to determine the aid package after the president makes an emergency disaster declaration. He said the work of the committee must be narrow in scope, on a set timeline and focused only on funding for specific disaster aid that can then go the House and Senate for up and down votes.
“We need to get the politics out of it and give our fellow Americans the help they need when they are hurting,” he said.