BAINBRIDGE, Ga. — Congress appeared to strike a deal to advance a disaster relief bill that would send needed money to hurricane-ravaged parts of south Georgia.
Hurricane Michael hit in October. Congress had been unable to agree on a relief package for more than seven months.
Thursday, Republicans said they had agreed to forego border security funding as part of the package, making it agreeable to Democrats. President Trump is expected to OK the measure if it passes the House, as expected.
US Sen. David Perdue (R-Georgia) said Trump deserved credit for the breakthrough.
"President Trump has broken through the gridlock to get disaster relief across the finish line,” Perdue said in a statement released by his office. "Finally, farmers in Georgia are closer than ever to getting the assistance they desperately need after Hurricane Michael."
More than seven months after Hurricane Michael passed through southwest Georgia, much of the land has healed. But the scars are still undeniable.
The now-destroyed house Don Lane bought in Seminole County just weeks before the hurricane hit is a roadside wreck. It lacks the blue tarp that still appears on property after property in southwest Georgia. And if it’s not tarp, it’s trees all-but flipped sideways.
"There was 30 acres of timber behind my house that I had to just push up and burn," Lane said. "I had to buy a bulldozer and hire a crew to clean it up."
Lane says he had submitted an application for federal disaster money well in advance of Thursday's compromise in DC.
"Some farmer have already run out of time," Tommy Dollar told 11Alive News Wednesday. He's a Bainbridge agribusinessman and farms cotton and peanuts.
"They should have planted a crop May the first. They’re 20 days behind," Dollar said. "Some farmers that haven’t been able to, they’ve already given up. But maybe we can get ‘em back into circulation."
Southwest Georgia has endured a triple whammy. In 2017, a hurricane turned-tropical storm named Irma wiped out millions of dollars of crops right at harvest time.
In 2018, Hurricane Michael did it again, but even worse. And in the 17-plus months afterward, Congress failed to deliver a disaster relief package.
"My cotton losses were roughly $300,000 and my timber losses were $400,000," Dollar tallied. "That’s what is lost after insurance."
Southwest Georgia farmers, he says, are self-sufficient and uncomfortable with government bailouts. But insurance, he says, has only been a stopgap.
Eric Cohen lost all of last fall’s pecan crop and half of his trees to hurricane Michael. Just cleaning up the downed trees, he says, cost hundreds of thousands of dollars he says he had to borrow.
Disaster aid "would help us a lot, because (the feds) promised to help us with the cleanup fees. I’ve probably got seven, eight, $900 an acre in just cleaning up my orchards," Cohen said.
There are white poles in his pecan orchard that mark saplings planted to replace a fraction of the trees lost during hurricane Michael.
"We replanted maybe five percent. We just ran out of time. It took us five and a half months to clean up," Cohen said. "But it’ll be 10 years before I’m back in production with those trees."