This evening, President Donald Trump kicked off his State of the Union Speech with the traditional optimistic comments, including a mention of the Americans still suffering from a series of hurricanes and other natural disasters that struck last year.
“To everyone still recovering in Texas, Florida, Louisiana, Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, California, and everywhere else — we are with you, we love you, and we will pull through together,” said Trump.
According to the transcript of the President’s remarks as prepared for delivery provided by the White House Press Secretary, Trump will not mention this topic again tonight. The full transcript is embargoed until the end of the speech, but I ran searches of the text for mentions of Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, hurricane, disaster, relief, agriculture, and several other related terms.
Just a few hours ago, both of Florida’s Senators, Republican Marco Rubio and Democrat Bill Nelson, took to the Senate floor to highlight several areas where disaster relief was woefully inadequate, specifically referencing Florida and Puerto Rico.
Nelson spoke first, and noted that almost of third of Puerto Ricans still do not have electricity. Despite this, FEMA announced last week that it will stop distributing food and water on the island, which Nelson called “unconscionable” and “a travesty.”
Earlier today, a bipartisan group from Florida’s Congressional delegation sent a letter to FEMA Administrator Brock Long objecting to the ending of this aid to Puerto Rico.
Rubio agreed with Nelson’s criticism of FEMA ending the aid to Puerto Rico. About 300,000 Puerto Ricans — who are American citizens, as Rubio reminded listeners — have moved to Florida since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the U.S. territory, which has caused a major impact on Florida’s schools by adding thousands of new, unexpected students.
Rubio also spoke at length about the catastrophic impact that the storm had on Florida’s agriculture industry, specifically the concern that this “could be the end” of Florida citrus:
Florida’s citrus industry, one of our signature, if not our signature, crop was already being challenged by citrus greening which is a terrible disease. Senator Nelson and I went to some of these groves together, and you have these growers that basically already were hurting. They lost everything this year. So no money coming in. The fruit is gone. Once that fruit touches the ground, and that ground is wet, you can’t sell it.
The trees are damaged and it’s not like you can just go buy a new tree at Walmart and in a year it’s producing. You have got to put it in the ground. It takes five years before they start to produce. So they are already hurting and they’re wondering to themselves, ‘Should I replant? Is this a good line of business for me to be in?’
Some of these families have been in citrus for three or four or five generations. And this could be the end. Not just the end for them, but the end of Florida citrus. We helped them in the tax bill with the ability to immediately expense replanting. But that won’t be enough. And that’s why this package has to include USDA resources to help replace these lost trees and rehabilitate these groves that were flooded. This is critical and essential to our food supply.
Watch Rubio’s full remarks here:
Watch Nelson’s full remarks here:
UPDATE: Now that the speech is over, we can confirm that Trump, in fact, did not stray from his prepared remarks to make any additional commentary about disaster relief issues.
Photo by Jamelle Bouie via Flickr.
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