Helping our neighbors in need

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, December 4, 2018

On a day that will live in Georgia history – October 10, 2018 – a category 3 hurricane ripped through southwest Georgia leaving a path of devastation our state and citizens have never seen before. People’s homes were destroyed down to the foundation and our farmers experienced catastrophic damage to their harvest and land. And even though this storm destroyed structures and farmlands, it did not destroy the spirit and will of our citizens in southwest Georgia to rebuild. It did not break the very foundation that makes us all great Georgians – the resolve to always help a neighbor in need and to always step up to plate when any of our citizens are suffering.

I want to commend Governor Nathan Deal, Lt. Governor Casey Cagle, Speaker David Ralston and all members of the Georgia General Assembly for realizing the urgency of the need. As a result of Governor Deal calling for a special session, we were able to pass an aid package for southwest Georgia that will assist the rebuilding and healing process. I was proud to support both House Bill 1EX and House Bill 4EX which both received unanimous approval in the Senate and were signed by Governor Nathan Deal. HB 1EX, the fiscal year 2019 amended budget, appropriates an additional $270.8 million in funds to be utilized in areas affected by the storm.

Included in the $270.8 million is $55 million for the Georgia Development Authority so they can provide assistance to Georgia farmers in the counties devastated by the storm. I am thankful for this appropriation but realize that it is a drop in the bucket for farmers who have had their crops or trees completely destroyed. I encourage our partners on the federal level to match our funding and to keep fighting for a Georgia that is in critical need of assistance at this time.

It is important to note that $770,000 was appropriated to the State Forestry Commission for the purposes of expediting construction of the consolidated Miller-Early County District 2 office in Blakely. This construction will replace the Colquitt and Blakely offices damaged by the storm.  Additionally, to further assist southwest Georgia, $6.8 million was appropriated so that the state can help cover costs local governments sustained for recovery at the local level.

$20 million was appropriated to the Georgia Development Authority to assist those who have timber plots replant (approximately 79,000 acres were destroyed) and to help clean up the path of destruction which resulted in an approximate $2.5 billion loss to the timber and agriculture industries. They will use this funding for cleanup efforts and debris removal for timberland owners in 28 counties that were declared as ‘disaster areas.’ Along with appropriating funding through HB 1EX, we unanimously passed HB 4EX which will allow timberland owners to apply for an income tax credit, capped at $200 million, if their trees were damaged by the storm. Each land owner must replant trees in the areas where there was severe damage to receive the up to $400 per acre credit which will be distributed through the Department of Revenue.

While I am encouraged by the great work done during the special session, I believe that additional funding and program assistance will be necessary. We must work to identify where we went wrong and what we can do to be better prepared for storms like this in the future. If we do not identify where our weaknesses were and if we don’t learn from that, it will be a wasted opportunity. Reevaluating existing infrastructure, such as generator capabilities, construction materials, etc., will allow us to weather future storms better and to hopefully avoid damage on a catastrophic level.

I believe the best way for us to make an immediate difference is to keep an open mind and an open heart to those who may be too prideful to ask for help. As we head into this holiday season, I know that you are thankful and grateful for what you have, but also ask that you keep those who are still recovering in your thoughts and prayers. I am encouraged by the support I received from my colleagues and efforts being made across the state to help our citizens in southwest Georgia. Thank you to everyone who has extended a helping hand.