Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, will present the chamber’s version of the $26.9 billion midyear budget this week. JASON GETZ

Georgia Senate backs $18 million in new loans to hurricane victims

The Georgia Senate is set to approve a midyear budget this week that would add $18 million in loans to farmers affected by Hurricane Michael and $2 million for rural hospitals damaged in the storm.

The Senate proposal, which won approval from the chamber’s budget committee Tuesday, builds on money the House added to aid southwest Georgians whose farms were devastated by Hurricane Michael.

The state allocated $55 million in loans during the November special session after the storm, but the money ran out. House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, said the state has an additional 100 requests for assistance. The average loan is for about $290,000, so at that rate, the $18 million would be enough for about 60 loans.

The new funding comes only a few months after lawmakers approved a $470 million package of grants, repair spending, loans and tax breaks for the area hammered by Hurricane Michael in October.

Last year’s storm caused an estimated $2.5 billion in losses. Direct losses for pecan farmers alone were expected to reach $560 million. That includes likely losses for next year’s crop and damage to trees.

Most of the rest of the extra money in the $26.9 billion midyear budget — which runs through June 30 — will go to fund growth in the cost of k-12 schools and the state’s Medicaid health care program for the poor and disabled.

However, it also includes $69 million for safety grants to Georgia schools aimed at beefing up security on k-12 campuses. The grants were a priority of Gov. Brian Kemp, who campaigned on the issue last year.

Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Hill, R-Reidsville, said the state will need 3.3 percent revenue growth through June 30 to pay for the budget. That means tax collections — mostly from sales and income taxes — will have to pick up in the last five months of the fiscal year. Through January, collections for fiscal 2019 were up 1.5 percent.

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