Tomorrow marks eight months since Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 5 hurricane.
Hurricane Michael hit southwest Georgia at exactly the time when most crops were ready for harvest. Peanuts, pecans, blueberries, cotton, poultry — nothing was spared.
Agriculture is Georgia’s top industry and our No. 1 economic driver. Before the hurricane, farmers were expecting a record harvest. Instead, their crops were completely destroyed.
Shortly after the hurricane hit, President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue all came down to Georgia with Senator Isakson and me. Together, we toured the devastation and heard directly from farmers about the tough road to recovery.
The scene we saw that day is something I personally will never forget – poultry houses flattened, tracts of timber destroyed, pecan trees uprooted, crops ruined and people’s lives radically changed forever.
When they saw the devastation, the Trump Administration told Georgia farmers they would have their backs. This week, Congress finally delivered on that promise and passed a $19.1 billion relief package for 2017 and 2018 natural disasters — including $3 billion to cover agriculture losses. On Thursday, President Trump signed it into law
This is great news for Georgia and means our farmers and producers will finally have access to the resources they need to replant, rebuild and recover.
Gov. Brian Kemp, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, Commissioner of Agriculture Gary Black, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, Sen. Johnny Isakson and the entire Georgia congressional delegation have been working day and night to get disaster relief across the finish line. They have all been great partners in this effort.
However, the fact that it took 237 days for Congress to pass a disaster relief bill after Hurricane Michael is beyond embarrassing.
Disaster aid should have been funded as soon as we had an estimate of the damage, which was just a few weeks after Hurricane Michael hit. Instead, the funding got caught up in partisan battle, after partisan battle, after partisan battle.
Previous disaster aid bills were not held up like this. Within 10 days of Hurricane Katrina, Congress passed supplemental disaster relief funding. After Hurricane Harvey, it took 15 days. Even after Hurricane Sandy, which sparked substantial debate, Congress passed a supplemental funding bill 74 days later.
Most of the delay was caused by Democratic demands for additional aid for Puerto Rico — even though the island is already eligible to receive $91 billion to recover from 2017 hurricanes. That’s three times more funding than Texas was eligible to receive for Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and nearly double what was appropriated for Hurricane Sandy in 2013.
It’s clear this fight was never really about Puerto Rico funding. For Democrats, this was about obstructing the president and preventing him from keeping his promise to help the American people recover after natural disasters ravaged their communities.
Disaster relief is not a political issue. It is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It is a shame that it turned into one over the last eight months.
Congress should take action now to avoid similar delays in the future. We should expand Congress’ existing contingency fund for natural disasters so we don’t have to rely on supplemental appropriations bills. Additionally, we should streamline the process for disbursing disaster relief funds once the aid has been approved by Congress.
It’s no secret that every dime of the relief package we just passed is borrowed money. Because of Washington’s fiscal intransigence, we are losing the ability to do the right thing. We need to tackle this debt crisis and fix the funding process so we can help the American people when they are counting on us most.
Going forward, Congress must leave politics out of disaster relief and move swiftly to provide assistance. When disaster strikes, time is of the essence, and the American people need to know we have their backs.