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Rep. Ross Says Florida Needs More Funds For Disaster Relief

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

It has been three months now since hurricanes Harvey and Irma battered the Gulf Coast. And now more than 60 members of Congress say they are tired of waiting for federal relief money and that they are going to do something about it. A bipartisan group of Texas and Florida lawmakers plans to block a government funding bill if it does not include additional disaster relief money. And if they do sink the bill, this could trigger a government shutdown after next week. One of the House members supporting this strategy is Dennis Ross.

He's a Republican from Central Florida, and he's on the line. Congressman, good morning.

DENNIS ROSS: Good morning.

GREENE: So can you just give us an idea of what your constituents are telling you in terms of what they still need? I know parts of...

ROSS: Absolutely.

GREENE: ...Your district were really hit by Hurricane Irma.

ROSS: We were hit, obviously, through the eye by Hurricane Irma. But my district has been one of the most abundant producers of citrus in the world for years, at least until this year. After citrus greening has been devastating the crops and they've been making a rebound over the last 10 years, this was the first good year in probably 10 years. And then Hurricane Irma hit. They've had close to $2.5 billion in agricultural losses. The crop insurance program is woefully inadequate, giving probably less than 20 percent return of value to these citrus growers. We provide 60 percent of the orange juice to the United States.

Absent relief, we're going to lose an industry that's going to have 60,000 job impact and we're going to see it go overseas. We've asked our leadership, they've said, yes, we're going to provide for you, we're going to take care of you. But it's been three months and we've had no relief. The only thing they told us the other day in conference was we're not ready to provide it, meaning they haven't gone through whatever they need to go through over a three-month period. And we've given them every assessment of value of damage.

GREENE: So that's the only explanation that, I mean, we should say - pardon me for interrupting, I mean, you are a Republican. Your party controls Congress, the White House.

ROSS: Right.

GREENE: Are your Republican colleagues giving you anything more than we're not ready in terms of an argument that you can take to your constituents?

ROSS: No, but they did say - then the leadership did say, now, that doesn't mean we won't be ready by next week to provide it. But just as of Thursday or as of Wednesday, we were not ready to provide the supplemental relief. Now, I don't know where the breakdown is, but I don't think there's any argument over the devastation that was sustained in both Texas and Florida from these hurricanes. Now, we have given so much more from this federal government to Superstorm Sandy, to Hurricane Katrina than we have to Harvey and to Irma.

We can do this. And I'm very concerned with a president who wants to make sure we maintain our jobs here in the United States, that we don't see our industries go overseas and here we are seeing the foremost industry, the number two economic provider in the state of Florida, quite frankly, on their last breath.

GREENE: Well, if I may, Congressman, we don't have too much time, I just want to ask you about the potential danger of this strategy because if you block this funding bill and the government were to shut down, wouldn't that deprive some of your constituents of some services they might really need to get by in this time.

ROSS: And our leadership knows that, and they know what it takes. They've already done three supplemental relief bills. There's no reason they can't do this other one. It is on them as to whether we shut down the government or not, not on us or in Texas because of the damage we sustained due to these storms.

GREENE: That is Congressman Dennis Ross. He is a Republican, who represents parts of Central Florida. Congressman, thanks so much, we really appreciate it.

ROSS: Thank you very much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.