Hurricane Irma – Florida Politics

Rick Scott appoints new member to Florida Citrus Commission

A vacancy on the nine-member governing board of the Florida Department of Citrus has been filled.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday afternoon the appointment of Pat Schirard to the Florida Citrus Commission.

Schirard, 57, of Vero Beach, is the president of GEM Indian River Select, a premium juice company that prides itself on solely using Florida citrus for production. A fourth-generation Floridian according to Indian River Select, he is also a citrus grower in Lake, Brevard, Polk and Indian River counties. His term begins Thursday and ends May 31, 2019.

According to the commission’s website, the terms of three other members, Carlos Martinez, Vernon “V.C.” Hollingsworth III, and Aedan J. Dowling, will expire at the end of this month.

The Citrus Commission is the rulemaking authority for the Florida Department of Citrus, a state agency charged with marketing, research and regulation of the Florida citrus industry. According to FDOC, the citrus industry employs 45,000 Floridians and contributes an estimated $8.6 billion to the state’s economy annually. 

Schirard will assume his new post at a time when citrus growers are trying to bounce back from devastation caused by Hurricane Irma last year. The latest forecast from the United States Department of Agriculture predicts Florida will produce 44.95 million boxes of oranges in the current growing season —  a drop of more than 9 million boxes since October 2017, when predictions were made without factoring in the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma.

The state’s citrus industry also has been hit by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease attacks the fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. The epidemic has waned citrus production in recent decades, though farmers were on track to rebound — until Irma.

Nursing home attorneys no-show at contempt hearing

Attorneys for a Broward County nursing home didn’t show up for a hearing into its contempt motion against the Agency for Health Care Administration over alleged public records violations.

Scheduling error, said Geoffrey Smith, of the Smith & Associates law firm in Tallahassee, because of a “misunderstanding related to the scheduling of hearings in several ongoing related matters.”

”We continue to look forward to the production of the public record information on the deaths that occurred in Florida during the aftermath of Hurricane Irma,” he said.

Tallahassee Circuit Judge Terry Lewis said he likely couldn’t have resolved the case within the hour allotted anyway, because he’d realized the parties would need to present evidence rather than merely argue points of law.

He asked Michael Williams, an assistant general counsel to the agency, who did attend the scheduled hearing, to get in touch with the other side to reschedule.

“It seems like there’s really a factual dispute,” Lewis said.

“I would suggest to the plaintiffs, if they were here, that they go ahead and pay whatever fee and let you get going,” he added. “And I’ll reserve jurisdiction on whether that’s a reasonable time and that’s a reasonable fee.

“If you’ll relay that, we’ll just let them reset this hearing for a little longer.”

Williams declined to comment following the hearing.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was the site of patient deaths as Hurricane Irma knocked out its power supply, and with it, the air conditioning. Twelve patients died, and the state later went after the facility’s license.

In the subsequent court battle, the nursing home filed a public records request for death certificates filed with the state between Sept. 9 and Sept. 16, during Irma and shortly afterward.

In part, the facility objects to the state’s demand for nearly $6,000 before it produces the data.

Bill Nelson, Philip Levine rip federal response to Puerto Rico

Speaking at the 9th Annual Puerto Rico Summit in Orlando Friday, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson ripped the federal response to Puerto Rico’s devastation by hurricanes last fall.

Nelson called for statehood for Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló also ripped Washington, but his ire was focused on Congress for including a new excise tax on Puerto Rican businesses in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 passed in December.

All three drew at least partial standing ovations, though the crowd was mixed, with Democrats, Republicans and others, including a scattering of elected officials from Central Florida, South Florida and Puerto Rico.

Earlier in the day, Florida Gov. Rick Scott also spoke to the gathering of more than 300 about all that his administration has done to assist Puerto Rico and Puerto Ricans who fled the devastation to Florida. He too, received an ovation. And Rossello thanked Scott, along with Nelson, Levine, and U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, who did not attend, for their help for the struggling island territory since Hurricanes Irma and Maria laid waste and left problems that persist today.

Yet in their afternoon remarks, Levine and Nelson took off gloves, and most of the crowd loved it.

Levine personally brought one of the first planes into Puerto Rico with relief supplies shortly after the Sept. 20 Hurricane Maria disaster, arriving with the goods ahead of anything the Federal Emergency Management Agency offered. The group gave Levine an award for that, and also gave an award to Scott.

“The way the administration handled that relief effort was embarrassing to our nation and the world, what they did to Puerto Rico,” Levine said. “And I don’t care if that’s politically incorrect, I’m going to call it like it is.”

Levine said the same kind of White House response would have made the Normandy invasion or the Berlin Airdrop utter disasters.

“What our country could have done for Puerto Rico, it didn’t do. Instead of throwing paper towels, what they should have done is say I want the top 25 CEOs of the top companies in America, put them on a plane, and say we will show the world what America can do!” Levine said, bringing a rousing ovation.

Nelson was more measured in his criticism of the federal response, but also far more detailed, talking about his numerous trips to Puerto Rico, including two weeks ago, when he saw small cities that still lacked power to up to 30 percent of their residents, and where clean water still is unavailable to many.

He spoke of recent decisions by the administration of President Donald Trump to end FEMA assistance, and, as of Friday, to bring home the Army Corps of Engineers’ restoration efforts. He spoke of contracts being mismanaged, and “basic necessities” such as tarps and hot meals still not available to all.

“This is completely unacceptable. Can you imagine anybody on the mainland in Texas and in Florida almost nine months after the hurricane still without electricity?” Nelson said.

“I have always supported self-determination for all U.S. citizens. Now with all the poor treatment by this administration it seems to me that statehood is the answer,” Nelson said.

“We should never accept incompetence andgross negligence as the new normal,” Nelson said. “So we have to fight.”

Florida CAT Fund healthy, but council contemplates doomsday scenario

The Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund has reserves enough to easily cover its Hurricane Irma liabilities — as much as $300 million in excess of its $17 billion statutory liability limit.

But what happens if a major storm — or a swarm of them — wipes out the fund’s assets? It might have to demand emergency assessments of a broad array of policyholders.

Council staff stressed during an advisory council meeting Thursday that they were talking really-bad-case scenarios. But it’s not like it hasn’t happened before, chief operating officer Anne Bert said.

“We certainly faced that in 2006, because we wiped out the CAT Fund in ’04 and ’05,” she said.

“It’s not the worst. The worst would be if we didn’t have any pre-event bonds,” Bert said. Still, “This one’s pretty bad.”

The fund floats those “pre-event” bonds as contingency against disasters.

A wipe-out would leave it with $2.75 billion in liquid assets. It likely could float another $8.2 billion in bonds at that point, but the fund would need to borrow an additional $6 billion-plus to rebuild its reserves.

Those emergency assessments would pay debt service on such “post-event” bonds, Bert said.

“None of this is fee money. We have to pay it back. And we will turn to the policyholders of the state of Florida to help us pay it back,” Bert said.

As for a bond issue, “Hopefully, the market would allow us to do that,” she said.

She referred to the capital market — infusions from private reinsurance companies or Wall Street actors looking for places to park cash.

“Interest rates are low right now. There are people looking for yield,” Bert said. “They just are.”

Back to the present: The fund holds $14 billion in cash, and is looking into selling $1 billion in risk to the capital markets. It controls $2.2 billion in pre-event bonds.

“We’re in great shape,” Bert said.

According to a Raymond James analysis, the three major rating agencies have given the fund their top rankings not least on the strength of its $46.8 billion premium base. The fund could raise $2.8 billion in assessments to cover storm damage during a single contract year.

The industry-wide loss from Irma has been estimated at more than $8 billion. The fund’s share exceeds $2 billion, nearly $400 million of which it has paid thus far. Its client insurers typically prefer to be paid in installments, according to fund staff.

Citrus agency counts on bigger crop next year

The Florida Department of Citrus is banking on storm-battered and disease-hardened growers being able to pick more fruit from their trees next growing season.

As it starts to patch together a budget for the upcoming fiscal year, the department is projecting that revenues will increase by just over $400,000 through upticks in orange, grapefruit and specialty-fruit production, according to numbers released by the agency.

However, a continued decline in the forecast for the ongoing growing season forced the Bartow-based department on Wednesday to once again squeeze its current operating budget.

This time the Citrus Commission, which oversees the department, had to cut $137,866 from the just-over $17 million operating budget.

Department officials said they were able to make the cuts by shifting $122,352 from reserves, with the remainder from general revenue service-charge changes and medical research.

The Department of Citrus is funded through a “box” tax on citrus. Revenues have dropped as citrus production has declined in recent years because of citrus-greening disease and destruction from September’s Hurricane Irma.

In January, the commission shifted more than $70,000 out of administration, scientific-research and global-marketing budgets to cover an anticipated drop in revenue. A month earlier, the hole created by declining crops required the commission to shift $556,147 from reserves to the operating budget.

Irma, which made landfall in the Keys and Collier County before barreling up the state, caused major damage to the citrus industry in regions such as Southwest Florida. A federal relief package will provide $340 million to the state in the form of a block grant to help citrus farmers rebuild. Farmers are expected to be able to start applying for money through the “2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program” by July 16.

A preliminary budget for the department’s next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, will be based on projections that growers will be able to fill 60 million 90-pound boxes of oranges, 5 million similar-sized boxes of grapefruit and 880,000 boxes of specialty fruits, which include tangerines and tangelos. The preliminary budget will be formally introduced at a June 20 meeting.

The numbers would remain historic lows for the state’s signature industry, but if reached would represent a 34.8 percent increase in oranges from the current season, a 26.6 percent increase in grapefruit and 17.3 percent increase in specialty fruits.

The industry is currently on pace to record its lowest yield since the 1937-1938 season, when an overall total of 40.87 million boxes were filled.

Filling a projected 65.88 million boxes in the next season would put the state on par with the with the 1942-1943 season, when growers filled 36.5 million boxes of oranges, 27.3 million boxes of grapefruit, and 4.9 million boxes of specialty fruits.

The commission receives revenue by charging 7 cents on each 90-pound box of processed oranges, grapefruit and specialty fruits.

No discussion was made of the box taxes on Wednesday, with officials noting the rates will be addressed in October, after the first forecast of next season by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Rick Scott earmarks federal Hurricane Irma block grant for housing, infrastructure

Florida wants to spend $616 million in post-Irma federal emergency money to repair damaged homes, build new affordable housing, and to help businesses that suffered damage in the storm.

The money would come from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development through a disaster-recovery community block grant. Gov. Rick Scott submitted his plan for the money to federal officials on Wednesday.

“Even before Hurricane Irma made landfall, we began working with the federal government to express the diverse needs our state would face following a storm of this magnitude and how best to address those needs,” Scott said in a written statement.

“Since the storm, we have worked tirelessly alongside community and business leaders to build stronger communities that are better prepared for future disasters. I’m glad that DEO submitted this plan to help families in our state,” Scott said.

The Department of Economic Opportunity worked with local officials in the hardest-hit areas to develop the plan, the governor’s office said.

The program is designed to kick in after other federal assistance, including FEMA and Small Business Administration grants, and private insurance are exhausted.

HUD requires the state to direct 80 percent of the money to the areas that suffered the most damage — Brevard, Broward, Collier, Duval, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Polk and Volusia counties, and ZIP codes 32136, 32091, 32068 and 34266.

“We are thankful to these communities for their commitment and partnership to determine the best way to use this funding to make a difference across the state,” DEO director Cissy Proctor said. “We are committed to helping Floridians recover, particularly families who do not have the resources to rebound as quickly after a disaster.”

HUD has 45 days to evaluate the state’s plan, which includes the purchase of land for affordable housing.

The state hopes to use some of the money for economic and infrastructure projects, especially in the Florida Keys, and to assist people who moved to Florida from Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

The feds have allocated $117 million under the CDBG-DR program to help Florida cope with damage from hurricanes Hermine and Matthew.

Nursing home records dispute ratchets up

In the latest twist in months of legal battling after Hurricane Irma, an embattled Broward County nursing home has accused the Florida Department of Health of not properly complying with a judge’s order to turn over public records.

Leon County Circuit Judge Terry Lewis is scheduled Monday to hold a hearing on arguments by attorneys for The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills that the department should be held in contempt in the records dispute, according to an online docket and court records.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills has faced months of scrutiny and a state move to revoke its license after residents died following Hurricane Irma. The Sept. 10 storm knocked out the nursing home’s air-conditioning system, creating sweltering conditions that led to the evacuation of residents on Sept. 13. Authorities have attributed 12 deaths to the problems at the nursing home.

The nursing home and the state have been locked in a legal battle about the license revocation and other issues, and The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills filed a public-records lawsuit Jan. 31, alleging that the department had improperly refused to provide copies of death certificates for people across the state from Sept. 9 through Sept. 16 – a week-long period that included Hurricane Irma and its immediate aftermath.

Court documents have not spelled out why the nursing home wants the death certificates, but Lewis last month said the death certificates are public records and should be provided by the state.

“The records requested by petitioner (the nursing home) are subject to Florida’s Public Record Act … and there is no applicable statutory exemption to permit their withholding from release,” Lewis wrote.

But in a document filed last week, attorneys for The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills alleged that the Department of Health had not properly complied with Lewis’ order.

“Despite a final judgment ordering DOH to comply with Hollywood Hills’ public records request, DOH is delaying, attempting to charge illegal fees and otherwise intentionally refusing to comply with this court’s mandate,” the document said. “As such, this court should find DOH in contempt and order the records be produced immediately.”

In part, the nursing home objected to a May 7 invoice from the department for $5,928, including $5,907 for “review & redaction” of the records. The nursing home contends that there is not a need to review and redact information from the death certificates, a process that the invoice indicates would require 492.25 hours.

The court docket Tuesday morning did not include a response from the department. But in objecting to the original public-records request, the department contended that the large request fell under part of state law dealing with “vital records or data.”

It said the nursing home’s request didn’t meet legal standards for releasing such information.

“Whereas anyone may request and receive a redacted death certificate (under part of state law), only certain people and entities may receive the type of general data that would allow research to be conducted,” the department argued in a March motion to dismiss the case.

“Such data … is far more broad than simply one or two specifically requested death certificates. The only possible purpose for this subsection (of law) is to regulate who may obtain large swaths of data derived from death certificates and other such records.”

The motion said the nursing home is “not the type of entity which may receive this data.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Agriculture Commissioner candidates eye disaster plans

After farmers and ranchers sustained heavy damage in Hurricane Irma, candidates for state Agriculture Commissioner are offering a variety of approaches to make Florida’s food chain more resilient before future natural disasters.

Sen. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, wants the state to expand on a temporary relief package for farmers that the Legislature rolled out after Hurricane Irma.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican, wants to put pressure on the federal government to shift more authority over federal services to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services “to ensure that the needs of our farmers and the agricultural community is met.”

Former Rep. Baxter Troutman, a Winter Haven Republican, speaks of a need to strengthen roads, rails and ports, while fortifying utilities and keeping workers safe so they can quickly return to work.

And Homestead Mayor Jeff Porter, a Democrat, wants the state to establish a separate emergency relief fund for farmers and ranchers, separate from one that is typically opened for all businesses impacted by natural disasters.

Hurricane Irma, which inflicted $2.5 billion in losses to Florida’s agricultural community, was just one in a series of natural disasters across the nation in 2017 that showcased the precarious nature of growing and distributing food.

Grimsley, Caldwell and Troutman indicated they intend to build on the work of outgoing Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is running for Governor. Porter, meanwhile, contends Putnam has been more “reactive than proactive.”

“I lived through one of the worst natural disasters in our nation’s history when Hurricane Andrew leveled the city of Homestead,” Porter said. “As a city council member, vice-mayor, and mayor of Homestead over the last 15 years, I know from experience that planning in advance is more beneficial to the community than reacting after the disaster has hit. I’m not only talking about hurricanes but the fruit fly infestation that hit the agricultural community and floods and cold snaps.”

Grimsley said Putnam has worked “tirelessly within the constraints of his budget.”

“The next commissioner has the opportunity to build upon and enhance those efforts with long-term preparation in mind,” Grimsley said.

While saying Putnam has done “a great job understanding the industry’s challenges,” Caldwell said more needs to be done to hold the federal government accountable.

“There is bureaucracy left over from the Obama administration that has caused a backlog in the federal government’s ability to respond to natural disasters quickly,” Caldwell said. “It took the federal government nearly five months after Congress approved funding for crop recovery from 2017 hurricanes and storms to draft procedures for requesting funds. As the commissioner of agriculture, I will be an active voice in Washington for our industry, and I will work with my agency staff to look at turnkey solutions rather than wait on and rely on the federal government.”

Florida’s citrus industry was particularly hard hit by Irma, which made landfall in September in Monroe and Collier counties and then barreled up the state. Florida will get a federal block grant worth $340 million to go exclusively to the citrus industry.

The citrus industry also has struggled for years with deadly citrus-greening disease.

Caldwell said he intends to call for research and development on “stronger crop varieties” such as sumo citrus, tangelos and ruby red grapefruit that fared bettered against the disease than traditional Florida navel oranges.

After Irma, the Legislature created tax breaks on fuel used to transport agricultural products, on agricultural materials purchased for repairs and for citrus packing houses that had their businesses interrupted by the storm or citrus disease.

Grimsley wants the Legislature to expand on those efforts by “encouraging the hardening of facilities and structures.”

“A long-term approach to this would allow for refitting of farm operations to make certain that the next time disaster strikes, our state’s agriculture industry is well prepared and can quickly get back up and running,” Grimsley said.

Grimsley also envisions the State Agriculture Response Team, or SART, taking on a year-round responsibility to work with local officials on “challenges from high winds, heavy rains, flooding and wildfires.”

“That would include developing best practices, offering mitigation cost-share programs when appropriate, and routinely investing in equipment and supplies staged specifically for disaster response,” she said.

Troutman said avoiding disruptions of food production and distribution requires continuing many of Putnam’s policies, while also looking for “new ways to innovate and modernize” the industry.

“I would strongly promote policies to strengthen and protect the industry from all threats: natural, man-made, and economic,” Troutman said.

Porter would like the state to consider putting farmers and ranchers in a higher priority category in areas such as debris removal, which could help “reduce their overall losses and enable these businesses to save crops and livestock which helps all involved.”

And due to the importance of agriculture on the state’s economy, Porter, said a reserve fund should be set aside in the budget for agricultural businesses to help growers recover.

“Currently, those affected in the agricultural community must stand in line with all businesses or wait on federal relief which can takes many months,” Porter said. “By funding a special ‘locked box’ reserve . . . we would be able to disburse funds quicker to farmers and ranchers in need. This fund could be replenished once the slow moving federal funds are released.”

Agriculture Commissioner is one of three Cabinet jobs that will be on the November ballot, along with Attorney General and state Chief Financial Officer.

Other announced candidates for agriculture commissioner, Republican Mike McCalister and Democrat David Walker, a marine biologist from Fort Lauderdale, did not respond to requests for comment before a Monday deadline about disaster-related issues.

Jeffrey Soffer closes deal to buy South Florida’s Mardi Gras Casino

Real estate billionaire Jeffrey Soffer has closed on a deal to buy South Florida’s former Mardi Gras Casino and Race Track.

The closing was disclosed in a final order filed Monday and released Tuesday by the state’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).

But the department, which regulates gambling in the state, withheld a final OK for a slot machine license, pending Soffer’s 831 Federal Highway Acquisition company paying $2 million for the license fee and a $250,000 “regulatory fee.”

Otherwise, “this Final Order approves of the transfer of assets and ownership interests” of its other gambling permits, the department said.

The sale marks an end to the four-decade long ownership of the Hallandale Beach facility by Hartman & Tyner (H&T), a Southfield, Michigan property management firm. Now named “The Big Easy Casino,” it has been closed since it was damaged by Hurricane Irma, though a poker room has since reopened. 

It also marks the completion of Soffer’s quest to buy the property.

The Soffer-family controlled Turnberry Associates real estate development company also owns Miami Beach’s famed Fontainebleau Resort

Speculation arose whether Soffer wanted to move the casino license from the Hallandale Beach track to the Fontainebleau. But according to Soffer, “such a move is both illegal and not in the cards.”

“I just like the real estate … I like the business. I think it’s a good opportunity,” he told the Miami Herald in January. 

Soffer had retained lobbyist Michael Corcoran, brother of GOP House Speaker and likely candidate for governor Richard Corcoran.

And, as reported by The Associated Press in January 2017, Senate President-designate Bill Galvano “acknowledged that he did legal work for Turnberry Associates on a ‘commercial transaction’ as recently as three years ago.” Galvano, past president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, has long been the Legislature’s go-to man on gambling issues.

The terms of the Mardi Gras sale were not disclosed in the DBPR’s final order, but The Real Deal, a South Florida real estate news website, reported last month that Soffer “paid $12.5 million” for the nearly 28-acre property “and financed the deal with a $19.5 million mortgage from Florida Community Bank.”

A message seeking comment from Soffer was left Tuesday.

It wasn’t immediately clear what involvement longtime casino head Dan Adkins will have with the facility. A request for comment from him also is pending.

As Florida Politics reported in March, Adkins had been locked in a legal battle with H&T and its directors, accusing them in federal court of lying to him that he’d be paid “millions of dollars” upon sale of the company’s gambling businesses in Florida, West Virginia and Michigan.

H&T struck back by filing its own federal suit, saying the 60-year-old Adkins “engag(ed) in self-dealing, corporate waste, and gross mismanagement … conceal(ing) the poor financial state of H&T’s businesses caused by his misconduct so that he could … enrich himself and his family members.”

H&T’s suit also blamed Mardi Gras’ damages on Adkins, saying “oversight was poor, (and) the roof of the racetrack came off during Hurricane Irma because it was incorrectly installed under Adkins’s direction.” 

Those cases were settled out of court and closed last month, dockets show.

Feds announce $340M grant for Florida citrus

A bit more money is on the way for Florida citrus growers affected by Hurricane Irma.

U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced on Monday that his agency will provide a $340 million block grant to the state to cater to Irma-affected farmers during the 2018-2020 crop year — that’s in addition to the $2.36 billion worth of farm disaster funding authorized by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in February.

According to USDA, the money from the grant will cover the buying and replanting of trees, grove rehabilitation, and repairs to irrigation systems.

“The Florida citrus industry was likely hit the hardest, and with such a high-value crop, they face a steeper financial burden and as a whole, have less coverage through our traditional insurance options,” Perdue said in a prepared statement.

Perdue said he was directed by President Trump to work “directly with Governor [Rick] Scott and [Agriculture] Commissioner [Adam] Putnam in Florida to put a process in place that will ensure the Florida citrus industry maintains its infrastructure and can continue to be the signature crop for the state.”

“Since Hurricane Irma hit our state, I have been fighting for Florida’s citrus growers to get the relief they need to rebuild their livelihoods, including taking immediate steps to provide relief from the state,” Scott said.

Added Putnam: “While no amount of relief can make the farmers who suffered damages from Hurricane Irma whole, this much-needed disaster relief will help Florida agriculture get back on its feet.”

The $2.36 billion, separate from the block grant, will be distributed by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency through the 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program.

Earlier in April, Florida leadership — Scott, Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, and Putnam — increased the pressure on the USDA to disperse the funds, the News Service of Florida reported.  

Since then, the USDA’s offered a few details and a rough timeline.

Per the agency, here’s what we know: “Eligibility will be limited to producers in counties that experienced hurricanes or wildfires designated as presidentially-declared disasters in 2017; Compensation determined by a producer’s individual losses rather than an average of losses for a particular area (where data is available); Producers who purchased higher levels of risk protection, such as crop insurance and noninsured crop disaster assistance program, will receive higher payments; Advance payments up to 50 percent; and a requirement that payment recipients obtain future risk protection.”

A sign-up period to determine eligibility will begin no later than July 16.

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