Recent reporting from news outlets throughout Florida have been focusing upon the legislature's approximately $90 billion proposed spending plan for next year's budget, which begins July 1, 2019.
Admirably, and certainly deserving within the House and Senate proposals, are significant restoration and debris cleanup funding for the counties in northwest Florida that suffered the devastation from Hurricane Michael.
However, I am saddened and disappointed that in the zeal and rush to bring much needed infrastructure relief to the Panhandle counties in the various spending proposals being offered in next year's budget, totally forgotten are the family farms that collectively, make up our state's peanut and cotton industry. For the rural counties in the Panhandle, agricultural is the backbone and lifeblood of the entire economy.
Not only were entire crops lost just days before what was to be a better than average harvest season, the loans given to the individual farmers from area financial institutions pledged against the harvest yields, are also in jeopardy of being lost. When farmers cannot pay the banks, which they have been unable to do since there was no harvest and crop to sell, their loans default, making it virtually impossible to ever recover from that setback.
There has been a simple solution proposed following the same circumstances for the peanut and cotton farmers in Georgia. The state of Georgia immediately passed emergency legislation creating a $50 million loan fund, which has allowed farmers to keep their bank loans alive for one more year while allowing them to get a new crop of peanut and cotton in the ground, which must take place before June 1, 2019.
Discussing funding relief efforts in a budget that won't even take effect until July 1, 2019, does no good for these family farms desperately trying to repair sustained damage, while also trying to get at least a minimal crop in the ground, which must take place in the next four weeks.
And while Senators Gainer and Albritton have proposed a loan program similar to Georgia's emergency loan program, the House has no such proposal and the Senate proposal has been stalled.
Attempts to meet with the governor or his chief of staff have gone unanswered. This is unfortunate, because at this 11th hour, it is only the governor that can intervene by utilizing the resources and protocols that come with being Florida's executive office.
Finding a source of funds from our current year's budget for an emergency loan program, at a minimum of $50 million to be paid back in the coming harvest years, seems to be an easy task for a governor and legislature preoccupied with how to spend $90 billion for next year's budget.