Florida

Waiting on Washington: Shutdown holding up disaster relief for Florida citrus growers

What happens when the government shuts down?

The world won't end if Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill before this weekend. That's the truth about a government "shutdown": the government doesn't shut down.
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The world won't end if Washington can't find a way to pass a funding bill before this weekend. That's the truth about a government "shutdown": the government doesn't shut down.

The stage seemed to be set for embattled Florida citrus growers to finally receive financial relief from the federal Farm Service Agency for damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma in 2017.

Then came the partial government shutdown on Dec. 22.

That frustrates Michael W. Sparks, executive vice president and CEO of Florida Citrus Mutual.

“It’s a federal assistance program that would give some financial relief to growers,” Sparks said.

Approximately 2,000 Florida citrus growers have been waiting well over a year for the lifeline from the federal government, Sparks said.

“For the citrus industry, it is frustrating that this program was caught in the government shutdown,” Sparks said.

Gary Bradshaw, president of SMR Farms, says his groves fared better than many in Central Florida.

Citrus growers for years have been contending with diseases such as greening and canker, as well as hurricanes and freezes, putting their viability in question.

Gary Bradshaw, president of SMR Farms, one of Manatee County’s largest citrus growers, said that his citrus losses were less severe than reported in other counties, and that he was not counting on the federal lifeline.

“What losses we had were covered by crop insurance,” Bradshaw said.

Thus far, Bradshaw said he has noticed little affect from the government shutdown, although he did receive a notice that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would not be issuing a citrus crop forecast in January.

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Gary Bradshaw, president of SMR Farms, one of Manatee County’s largest citrus growers, said that his citrus losses were less severe than reported in other counties, and that he was not counting on the federal lifeline. Bradenton Herald file photo

Likewise, Bob Spencer, president of West Coast Tomato in Palmetto, said the shutdown has not affected operations at his company.

The most-critical USDA functions seem unimpeded by the shutdown — at least so far.

“Certain USDA activities would remain active because they are related to law enforcement, the protection of life and property, or are financed through available funding (such as through mandatory appropriations, multi-year discretionary funding or user fees),” according to a USDA press release.

Among USDA services continuing through the shutdown are meat, poultry and processed egg inspection services, grain and other commodity inspection, and inspections of imports and exports.

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Carlos Buqueras, executive director of Port Manatee, confirmed that federal inspectors remain on the job.

“Millions and millions of pounds of produce enter Port Manatee and inspections can’t wait,” Buqueras said.

Also funded are monthly Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for January, most other domestic nutrition assistance programs such as the commodity supplemental food program, WIC and the child nutrition programs, including school lunch, school breakfast, child and adult care feeding, summer food service and special milk into February.

Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, says passing a farm bill won’t offer farmers the security they’re looking for if it’s followed by a government shutdown during implementation.

Among USDA programs affected are Farm Service Agency county offices, which closed Dec. 28, provision of new rural development loans and grants for housing, community facilities, utilities and businesses.

US. National Forest recreation sites are closed, unless they are operated by external parties.

While technically closed, many will still be physically accessible to visitors at their own risk, but without staffing at ranger stations and without access to facilities such as public restrooms.

The USDA announced Wednesday that many Farm Service Agency offices will reopen for three days — Thursday, Friday and Tuesday — to help farmers with existing loans and other limited services.

For a list of what will and will not be available, and for the location of the closest FSA office, visit http://bit.ly/2FDs4Wj.

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