FL citrus industry - squeezed by Irma - to get a helping hand

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) -- Aid is coming to Florida citrus growers squeezed by Hurricane Irma. This week, the federal government released new details on eligibility for these disaster funds.

Our Washington Bureau Reporter Alana Austin asks the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture why this took so long.

“Nothing in this town ever works as quickly as I would like for it to," says U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

Citrus growers are still rebuilding after Hurricane Irma crushed the industry late last summer.

The federal government is helping to pick up the pieces but those new dollars likely won’t reach growers until June.

This week, the Department of Agriculture rolled out eligibility requirements and more details on funding. As part of a relief package, Florida will receive hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal government to plant new citrus trees and repair infrastructure.

“Many times by the time a disaster check arrives, you’ve forgotten what the disaster was," said Perdue.

Perdue says he understands the frustration that funds aren’t reaching farmers fast enough. He says Congress approved these dollars in February, but getting those funds in the hands of growers is complicated.

Alana Austin: "What do you think the hold-up has been over?"
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL): “The hold-up has been the Department of Agriculture setting up the process for people to apply. The money’s there, but in order for people - a farmer to get it, they have to apply for it and they hadn’t set up the system for applying. That’s literally what the hold-up was.”

“We want to do it right but we want to do it as quickly as possible," said Perdue.

Secretary Perdue tells us the department is prepared to roll out disaster aid applications in late June. He expects half of the funds will be available early to those who qualify.

In October, the Florida Ag Department said the state citrus industry faced more than 760 million dollars in damages because of Irma.

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