WASHINGTON — It’s been six months since Hurricane Michael devastated the Florida Panhandle. Many areas are still trying to rebuild, but it hasn’t been easy, especially getting federal funding.
- Long-term hurricane recovery for Florida Panhandle in limbo
- Federal lawmakers have not come to an agreement on disaster aid
- Next big challenge for the region is preparing for future disasters
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Lawmakers have yet to come to an agreement on disaster relief. At this point, the only federal funding the Panhandle has seen is from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, but the aid for long-term recovery is still in limbo.
"We used to love to call it the Forgotten Coast,” said Rep. Neal Dunn (R-Florida) 2nd District
Dunn represents the region hit hardest by the Category 4 storm.
“The irony there, they’ve forgotten our storm, they’ve forgotten our disaster as well,” Dunn added.
Almost three months ago, the House passed a $14.2 billion package, but it went nowhere in the Senate. The 35-day government shutdown delayed action initially, but now the sticking point is over funding for hurricane recovery in Puerto Rico.
Senate Democrats offered a $16.7 billion package, which would have funneled $462 million to Puerto Rico, but the GOP was not interested.
“It’s ridiculous that we can’t get this done. This place is dysfunctional,” said Sen. Rick Scott (R-Florida) in an interview with Spectrum News.
For the most part, Democrats and Republicans have much different views on who is to blame for the funding standoff.
"I’m continuing to talk to Sen. Shelby, who leads appropriations, to try to get something done, and he’s at his wits end because he can’t get the Democrats to tell him exactly what they’re looking for,” Scott said.
“Chuck Schumer acts like he cares about Puerto Rico. Did he open up relief centers in New York when Puerto Rico got hit for Maria? No. Did he go visit there nine times to find out exactly what they needed? No. So, here’s a guy who is acting like he cares about Puerto Rico now, but he’s not doing it. If you talk to people in Puerto Rico, whatever we can get done, we ought to get done,” Scott said.
“Remember we passed this out of the House in February, yet the people of the Panhandle still wait for a Senate to come up with a final solution. And then to add in this drama over Puerto Rico and taking into account President Trump’s personal vendettas with the island over food stamps and other disaster relief is just a total distraction,” said Rep. Darren Soto (D-Florida) 9th District.
Hurricane Michael washed away homes, businesses and wiped out Tyndall Air Force Base, which lawmakers say is a major liability for military readiness.
“The Air Force has had to borrow from its operation maintenance accounts to start fixing Tyndall, which pays to fly jets and do operations around the world, because we haven’t gotten the disaster supplemental through,” said Rep. Michael Waltz (R-Florida) 6th District, who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
In order to pay for basic recovery repairs at Tyndall, the Air Force has already cut back on projects at military bases in 18 states. More cuts may be needed if Congress doesn’t allocate the funds soon.
The next big challenge for the region is preparing for future disasters.
“We have over 72 million cubic tons of debris that’s on the ground. We’re about to move into the season of lightning storms and all of North Florida is about to be on fire if we don’t get resources,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Florida) 1st District.
"It’s also affecting us on our floods, a lot of that debris and trees are clogging up our storm water runoff system. We go from the wind of the hurricane to the wildfires to the floods. It’ll be the complete trifecta,” Rep. Dunn explained.
With no solution in sight, lawmakers prepare to go home to their districts for a two-week break.
If lawmakers are unable to come to agreement over the next couple of days, this impasse is likely to stretch into May.