People and industries spread across 20 counties in southwest Georgia are still looking for aid in recovering from Hurricane Michael. And the challenges for families trying to get back on their feet has prompted a first ever use of a welfare benefit as disaster aid.
At the level of the overall economy of the region, Senators from the southeastern United States are asking Congress for billions of dollars in extra disaster relief.
A bill introduced by Georgia Senator David Perdue would provide money for repairing infrastructure, restoring coastlines and helping farmers who lost crops not just in Georgia but across the Southeast as well as in Puerto Rico and the island of Mauritius.
Senator Johnny Isakson is one of the bill’s co-sponsors. He said an area of special concern the bill would address in Georgia is the state’s pecan industry.
“75 percent of it was wiped out. And you know how long it takes to replace a pecan orchard? Fifteen to twenty years,” Isakson said from the floor of the Senate while asking for a speedy passage of the disaster relief bill.
Hurricane Michael caused an estimated $2.5 billion dollars in losses to Georgia agriculture.
Meanwhile, the storm pushed many people into poverty who had been living just on the cusp of qualifying for temporary assistance for needy families, or TANF, benefits. So, The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services is issuing around $15 million in special disaster TANF benefits to families trying repair homes or make down payments on new apartment leases.
Deputy Director Jon Anderson says this is the first time any state has used this welfare benefit as disaster aid.
“We really feel like what happened with Hurricane Michael is unprecedented and really we need to get this program out,” Anderson said.
The benefits will be limited to families which have already been working with FEMA in recovering from the storm. But, the income ceiling tips well into the middle class. For instance, a family of four with gross income of $75,000 might still qualify according to the rules established by Georgia DFCS.
The federal block grant the money comes from still has to cover conventional assistance to needy families. The estimated 33,000 families affected have from March 4 to the March 15 to mail in a paper application.