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Hawaii News

Lawmakers seek federal aid to help local farmers in wake of natural disasters

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A sunrise is seen over the Kilauea volcano lower East Rift Zone in Hawaii.

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Floodwaters are seen in Haena, Kauai, in April. Three days after heavy rain and flooding, many residents of Wainiha and Haena were cut off from many essentials including electricity and water.

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Former Hurricane Lane soaked the Hilo Bayfront in August.

Hawaii’s congressional delegation is urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide financial assistance to Hawaii farmers affected by the Kilauea Volcano eruption on Hawaii island, flooding from heavy rains in April and Hurricane/Tropical Storm Lane last month.

“The dire situation that our farmers and producers are currently experiencing as a result of recent disasters cannot be overstated,” wrote U.S. Sens. Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and U.S. Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Tulsi Gabbard in a letter sent Thursday to Bill Northey, the undersecretary for the Farm and Foreign Agricultural Serv­ice.

“We are already hearing reports of farmers, who employed multiple families and had millions invested in their agricultural business, having to lay off all of their employees and completely walk away from the agricultural industry because they lost all of their assets and cannot qualify for new loans to start over,” the letter said. “Agriculture in Hawaii is not easy during the best of times and now during the worst of times, many of our farmers and producers are being forced to give up on agriculture.”

The letter details the effects that natural disasters this year have had on the state’s vegetable, fruit, nut and coffee crops and flower and nursery products — industries that are valued in the tens of millions of dollars and support thousands of jobs.

In addition to the lava flows’ direct impact on Puna farms, the delegation noted that other farms in the area have suffered losses attributable to vog and acid rain.

Hawaii’s delegation urged the Agriculture Department to use its authority to tap into the “billions of dollars that USDA is allocating to offset the impacts of tariffs” — a reference to the Trump administration’s retaliatory tariffs employed in trade negotiations — to help Hawaii farmers. No specific monetary amount is being sought.

The delegation sent a letter to Northey seeking assistance for Hawaii farmers in June but didn’t receive a response. In that letter, members requested that farmers be allowed to sign up for crop insurance for the 2018 crop year and that the federal agency grant financial assistance to farmers provided they commit to buying crop insurance for the next two crop years.

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