Last month, Florida Gov. Rick Scott and agriculture commissioner Adam Putnam came to Washington with a simple message: include disaster relief funding for Florida citrus industry. The state's congressional delegation and Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio also made a similar pitch to the Trump administration.
Fast forward to Friday, and Florida lawmakers are angry that the Trump administration did not include a $2.5 billion for the state's citrus industry in a $44 billion disaster relief request for Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
"Floridians have been kicked to the curb in this proposed disaster supplemental, which lacks relief for Florida’s citrus growers who suffered immensely from this storm," said Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Lakeland. "The Florida delegation specifically requested this relief because there isn’t a citrus grove that wasn’t affected, with some experiencing 100 percent losses – worse than anything the industry has experienced in over 20 years. I cannot—I will not—support a proposal that leaves behind over 60,000 Florida jobs. I urge my colleagues in the Florida delegation to oppose it as well. I believe we have a duty to fight to ensure our citrus growers get the relief they need."
Ross, a senior deputy majority whip, plans to rally fellow members to vote against any disaster relief package that does not include the citrus money. He requested federal help from U.S. Department of Agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue days after Hurricane Irma made landfall in September.
It is possible for GOP leadership to revamp the Trump administration's disaster relief proposal before Congress votes on the plan, which will likely occur when Congress returns from a Thanksgiving break.
Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Okeechobee, also pushed for citrus relief funding.
"Do we want to say that orange juice is produced and made in America? Without the inclusion of funds to address citrus crop losses; that is at risk," Rooney said. "The threat to the domestic industry is real: oranges imported to Florida, primarily from Brazil and Mexico, are already projected to surpass what is grown in Florida this season. This storm has jeopardized an iconic Florida crop and way of life. Washington must act and provide relief so that generations of family citrus growers can continue to produce, employ, and put Florida-grown orange juice on America’s breakfast tables."
Nelson also criticized the $44 billion disaster funding request in more general terms, noting that Puerto Rico asked for $94 billion in disaster relief earlier this week while Texas asked for $61 billion after Hurricane Harvey.
"This request by the administration doesn’t come close to providing what is needed," Nelson said in a statement. "People are hurting and they desperately need our help, yet this request has no money to provide housing for evacuees and barely any money for Florida’s citrus growers. That’s unacceptable. Congress needs to pass a more robust disaster bill that actually provides the funding needed to help people recover."
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, also opposed the package and said she will use her spot on the House committee that determines federal spending to push for changes.
“This Trump administration request is an insult," Wasserman Schultz said in a statement. "It ignores evacuee housing, and demands matching funds that will hinder Puerto Rico’s ability to tap CDBG relief. It also falls way short of what of Florida’s citrus growers need. As an Appropriator, I will work across the aisle in Congress for a recovery package that actually takes seriously the tremendous need we have after this ravenous storm season.”