Governor Rick Scott continues to make appeals to leaders in Washington to get Florida federal relief funding after an active and devastating hurricane season.
A disaster funding bill, which includes funds for Texas after August’s Hurricane Harvey, wildfires on the nation’s west coast, and funding for Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico after September’s Hurricanes Irma and Maria, was passed by the House on Dec. 21 after the $81 billion measure was split off from discussions on a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through mid-January.
Now the Senate still must pass the measure, and Scott and members of Florida’s Congressional delegation, are urging the Senate to act.
“As I travel the state each day, one thing has been clear – Floridians are strong and resilient. However, it is imperative that the state see relief from Congress in the aftermath of these storms,” Scott wrote in a letter to Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Thad Cochran(R-Miss.) and Vice Chair Sen. Patrick Leahy(D-Vt.). “Now that the House passed a significant relief package prior to Christmas, the Senate must act immediately to lock in this critical funding for Florida and ensure the full recovery of families in our state and across the country.”
One of the key measures in the December funding package passed by the House included aid for Florida citrus farmers, who had gotten no such aid in the first two disaster relief bills from Congress. The state’s Department of Agriculture reports the state’s citrus growers sustained $760 million in damages from Hurricane Irma, and data from the USDA estimates the lowest citrus harvest – 46 million boxes – since 1945.
The bill also includes $12 billion in funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, at least some of which would go toward the Herbert Hoover Dike surrounding Lake Okeechobee. The lake saw levels peak over 17 feet. The Army Corps seeks to keep the lake’s depth between 12.5 and 15.5 feet, and have used freshwater releases down the Caloosahatchee River and the St. Lucie Canal to take the strain off of the dike, which is currently undergoing an ongoing repair effort.
“The risk to public safety during a hurricane, or any major weather event, is too high to delay repairs any longer,” Scott wrote.
The state is also seeking reimbursements for the costs associated with taking in Puerto Rican refugees from Hurricane Maria, which devastated the island territory just days after Hurricane Irma passed by the island. Florida allowed for the immediate enrollment of any displaced from Puerto Rico into state public schools, and in-state tuition for students enrolling in state colleges and universities. In December, Scott’s office reported over 200,000 Puerto Ricans moved to Florida in the aftermath of Maria.
But some are concerned that with the funding measure no longer attached to the continuing resolution that kept the government open, the Senate may never get to it.
Rep. Tom Rooney(R-Okeechobee) blasted the jettisoning of the disaster bill for its own measure as “a piece in a political and partisan game” in a statement.
“The political reality is that the only way this disaster funding was going to be signed into law before Christmas was for it to be combined with the continuing resolution,” Rooney said.
The Senate returned to work on Wednesday after the Christmas recess.
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