WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., Monday spoke on the floor of the U.S. Senate to urge his colleagues to put aside political differences and support a bipartisan disaster relief package to provide funding for Georgia and other states that are recovering from hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters.
This afternoon, the Senate is expected to vote on whether to begin debate on legislation similar to what was introduced last month by Isakson and Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., that includes $13.6 billion in overall relief efforts, with $3 billion for critical agriculture disaster relief for farmers in the affected states. Also included in the bipartisan disaster relief package is an additional $600 million for Puerto Rico to maintain enhanced nutrition benefits for low-income families in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Isakson made the point on the Senate floor that Puerto Rico has already received $40 billion dollars for disaster recovery and has yet to spend $21.4 billion of those federal funds, while Georgia and other states impacted by recent natural disasters, such as Hurricane Michael last year, have not received the federal disaster assistance they were promised.
“I want to give you the facts,” Isakson began. “Georgia, which I represent, is one of a number of states that includes Alabama, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Alaska, California, and Hawaii, which have experienced significant disasters. We saw the fires in California on our TVs. We saw the volcanos in Hawaii. We saw the blueberries in Georgia fall off the vines and be destroyed [by late freezes]. We saw what happened to these crops and Alaska’s earthquake. All of these states have received nothing yet. Puerto Rico has received $40 billion -- $40 billion for what happened during [Hurricane] Maria, and $21 billion has not been spent.
“They’ve gotten a lot of money, $40 billion, and the [disaster agreement] gives them $600 million more,” Isakson continued. “There’s a lot of places in this country that are states that we represent that have gotten nothing and have had big disasters in the last two years.”
Isakson praised the way the federal government has historically stepped in during a crisis to help victims and reminded his colleagues that the same action is overdue and again needed for a number of states.
“We all hate emergencies for a lot of reasons. … But when our state, your state or mine, is injured dramatically in a disastrous hurricane or tornado or whatever, we as a country have always passionately dealt with the results of those storms, the losses those states have felt and helped those states get back on their feet and those people be served,” said Isakson. “We’re not asking for a handout; we’re asking for a hand up in each of those states, and they’ve been waiting for a long time.”
Isakson took issue with a statement from House and Senate Democrat appropriators claiming that Puerto Rico is not treated fairly in the disaster aid package being brought before the Senate tomorrow. He pointed out that if an agreement cannot be reached before the end of the month, families in Puerto Rico will lose the enhanced nutrition assistance benefits that they are currently receiving and that are extended in this package. In addition, Isakson reminded the chamber that a failure to act puts agriculture producers and farmers in Georgia and other states in an even worse predicament as farm loans remain unpaid due to crop losses last year as a result of Hurricane Michael.
“A lot of people are going to go without help by the end of next month,” said Isakson. “Farm bills are going to come due and banks are going to foreclose on them. A lot of people in agriculture will be hurt badly. …We need to put off this guise of fairness and be really fair.”
Isakson concluded his remarks by urging his fellow senators to listen to the debate carefully before deciding how to vote or, “what you’re going to do, if you fall for this scenario, you’re going to really hurt some people who will otherwise be helped through deliberations that have taken over the part of the last two or three months.”
This is the third floor speech Isakson has made regarding disaster funding aid for Georgia in recent weeks while he has led bipartisan good faith negotiations to ensure this funding.
On Feb. 26, Isakson joined a bipartisan coalition of seven senators to introduce a disaster relief package with the backing of President Trump after prior funding attempts were removed from other supplemental spending packages.
Isakson’s disaster relief legislation was introduced with U.S. Senators David Perdue, R-Ga., Doug Jones, D-Ala., Marco Rubio, R-Fla., Rick Scott, R-Fla., Tim Scott, R-S.C., Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Thom Tillis, R-N.C.