Citrus groves in Florida remained under flood waters after Hurricane Irma in mid-September. ( File photo )

(UPDATED 12:15 p.m.) After months of waiting for $2.36 billion in disaster aid, growers in Florida, California and Texas whose crops were damaged by hurricanes and wildfires will be getting relief.

But the wait for that aid could still continue for months.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on April 6 announced it will make payments of up to $2.36 billion, as part of the Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP). It’s unknown, however, when checks will be issued. According to the USDA news release on the disaster aid, the sign up period for the program will be no later than July 16.

WHIP was approved to offset grower losses from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, and wildfires in California.

Congress approved the disaster package in February. As Florida citrus growers waited six months after September’s Hurricane Irma for disaster aid, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said “foot dragging” on releasing the money was costing citrus growers.

Nelson and Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and six other senators from California, Texas and Louisiana sent Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue a letter April 4 stressing the importance of the disaster aid to their states, and asked for an update on when the funds would be available.

“Florida’s farmers and citrus growers are a vital part of our state’s economy and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help them recover from last year’s storms,” Nelson said in a release following the April 6 USDA announcement.

The USDA’s Farm Service Agency will distribute the funds, according to the release. Altogether, the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, of which WHIP is a part, will provide more than $3 billion in disaster relief through direct payments and new programs.

“America’s farmers feed our nation and much of the world, and throughout history they have known good years and bad years,” Perdue said in the release. “But when significant disasters strike, we are ready to step in and provide the assistance they need.”

The USDA is developing procedures to expedite payments, Perdue said in the release.

 

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