South Carolina officials say they still don’t know when they’ll have an idea of how much money the state will receive from the $19.1 billion federal disaster relief package.
And it's still largely up in the air whether the funds will be enough to recoup an estimated $205 million in crop loss in the Palmetto State over the last year after flooding from Hurricane Florence.
“What we’re trying to do is figure out what that number is going to be and, from an expectation standpoint, what the process is going to be for a farmer to draw down that money from the federal government,” Clint Leach, assistant commissioner of the S.C. Department of Agriculture, said.
State officials have been in almost constant communication with South Carolina's congressional delegation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture since the bill was passed, Leach said.
“The real question is how much are we going to get of that $3 billion? That’s what we’re trying to gather," he said. "The delegation has the number of $205 million."
Getting that much may be difficult. A few months ago, Leach said, a group of Southeast states — South Carolina, North Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Virginia — declared their total agricultural losses to their congressional delegations.
That number came out to be $6 billion, double the $3 billion available for agriculture relief across the whole country.
“And that was prior to the broader bill being added to cover floods in Iowa and tornadoes recently and other natural disasters that may have opened the door for more agriculture disaster capacity in that bill,” Leach said.
U.S. Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., said he was pleased to see the bill pass after its progress was stymied several times by legislative gridlock.
"In numerous talks with leaders on Capitol Hill and Cabinet members in the administration, I have fought to ensure the necessary resources to keep our state whole have been secured," Scott said in a statement. "I will continue to work alongside the South Carolina delegation to fight for, defend, and protect funds for South Carolinians, especially in the wake of natural disasters.”
The bill, as the state Agriculture Department understands it, was modeled after 2017 legislation that gave aid to Florida farmers who had been hit particularly hard by natural disasters. What changes, if any, this bill will have in terms of bureaucratic processes remains unclear, Leach said.
Even after the money is ultimately allocated, Leach said the process for how farmers can claim aid money for lost crops, or whether there will be a cap on how much a farmer can claim, is still up in the air.
“There are a lot of unknowns that we’re all as an industry trying to track down,” Leach said.
Also included in the $19.1 billion pot is $2.43 billion allocated to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which will then have to allocate funds based on need for natural disasters incurred in the United States since 2017, according to Kelly Coakley of the S.C. Department of Administration.
“The South Carolina Disaster Recovery Office does not know if an allocation will be made to South Carolina for the (HUD) program, or what that amount would be,” Coakley said.
Scott added that he met recently with HUD Secretary Ben Carson, who reassured him funding and community tools were available to every South Carolina resident who still needs assistance.
The House passed the measure 354-58 on Monday, and President Donald Trump has signed it into law Thursday, according to The Associated Press. It was backed by all 222 voting Democrats and 132 Republicans, including the GOP's top leaders and many of its legislators from areas hit by hurricanes, floods, tornadoes and fires. Fifty-eight Republicans voted no.
Trump tweeted a photo of himself holding the signed bill Thursday in what appeared to be his office aboard Air Force One, the AP reported. The tweet came shortly after Trump landed in Ireland following a ceremony in France commemorating the D-Day invasion.
Trump says the aid is: "So important for our GREAT American farmers and ranchers."