Georgia governor demands Congress pass Hurricane Michael relief

Credit: Emily Haney/AJC

Credit: Emily Haney/AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp lashed out Wednesday at the failure of Congress to provide relief to Georgia farmers and other victims of Hurricane Michael, saying it shows “we have reached a low point as a nation.” His administration, meanwhile, began exploring more options if federal lawmakers don’t act.

At a press conference at the Georgia Capitol, Kemp and Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black lamented the enmity in Washington that has complicated the passage of the roughly $14 billion package that Georgia lawmakers have proposed for victims of the October hurricane and other recent disasters.

But each said there was little the state could do beyond the roughly $500 million package of loans, tax breaks and other incentives that lawmakers approved since the hurricane hammered southwest Georgia, causing generational damage to the pecan industry and other farmers in the area.

“This gridlock exposes the rotten core of some in Congress,” Kemp said. “They would rather crush an entire industry — destroying the livelihood of countless Americans — than do something that the opposition party wants. This dire situation highlights the brokenness in Washington.”

His comments were directed at both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, where deep mistrust and an increasingly bitter fight over funding for Puerto Rico appears to keep a bipartisan deal out of reach for weeks as lawmakers prepare to break for Easter.

“Do not go home. Do not stop working,” Kemp implored lawmakers, adding: “Our farmers have a line in the dirt in southwest Georgia and they can’t move it.”

His remarks sidestepped criticism of President Donald Trump, who has drawn the frustration of other Georgia Republicans. Trump pledged to help Georgia farmers, and Vice President Mike Pence toured the damage, but the president has since engaged in escalating attacks against Puerto Rico leaders.

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, a Republican whose district spans parts of South Georgia, said on the U.S. House floor Tuesday that his calls to White House staff have gone unheeded and "but for one tweet on April 1, it seems the president has moved on."

Kemp, who won the GOP nomination with Trump’s help, said he’s talked to the president multiple times and was assured that Trump is “very engaged in supporting our farmers.” He and Black added that farmers and the banking institutions that serve them are desperate for a sign of confidence.

In interviews with more than a dozen local farmers, many warn they could be forced to sit out the growing season, sell off land or leave agriculture for good without help from Washington.

Short of federal intervention, it’s unclear what options state leaders have to help the region.

“We’ve put a lot of state resources into this already, which I fully support, but there’s only so much we can do at the state level,” he said. “I promise you, I have every option on the table. But it’s just that we don’t have many good options. The simplest, easiest thing is for Congress to pass the disaster bill.”

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