The Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) has awarded a $1.1 million grant to cover salaries and other emergency costs accrued by fire and police departments in Mexico Beach, the Bay County town hammered into near-oblivion by Category 5 Michael last October.
The grant is the initial distribution from a $25 million FDEM fund included in a $220.9 million hurricane relief package approved by lawmakers during the 2019 legislative session.
In announcing the granty, Gov. Ron DeSantis called the money a “lifeline” for Mexico Beach, town of about 1,100 people with an annual $3.5 million budget.
“After the devastating impact Hurricane Michael had on this city, and especially it’s budget, it is vital we do whatever we can to help,” DeSantis said during a news conference at Mexico Beach City Hall. “By providing funding to support the Mexico Beach Fire Department and law enforcement officers, we are helping the city make sure its residents are safe, while also ensuring our hard-working first responders can support their families.”
“The strain on local budgets we saw after Hurricane Michael, especially in fiscally constrained areas like Mexico Beach, was something our state had never experienced before, which is why today’s announcement is absolutely critical for their recovery,” FDEM Director Jared Moskowitz said. “Providing the necessary funding to Mexico Beach helps them immensely as they begin their fiscal year.”
Moskowitz thanked the Legislature, noting the state has “so far totaled more than $250 million” in emergency assistance grants to the Panhandle since January.
That doesn’t include the $1.26 billion Florida has spent responding to the storm, primarily for debris collection, in anticipation of federal reimbursements that are trickling in piecemeal.
Hurricane Michael, the most powerful storm to make landfall in Florida since 1992’s Hurricane Andrew, scoured a 90-mile long, 60-mile wide swath of devastation across the Panhandle when it came ashore with a 14-foot storm surge on Mexico Beach.
The storm killed 26 people, left 1.1 million businesses/homes without electricity, damaged or destroyed more than 144,000 homes and wrecked 2.8 million acres of agricultural and forest land in North Florida, causing nearly $1.48 billion in agricultural damage, including $1.3 billion in destroyed timber.
As of Friday, 148,347 insurance claims totaling $6.9 billion in damage had been filed with the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR). Nearly 14 percent of those claims remain open.
Economists estimate that by the time the storm’s ultimate cost is tallied, including diminished incomes, production and uninsured losses, Micheal’s price tag will exceed $12 billion.
Through July, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had contributed $1.3 billion in Hurricane Michael disaster aid, including $146 million in individual assistance, $217 million in National Flood Insurance Program claims, $642 million in Small Business Administration disaster loans and $225.7 million in public assistance grants to local governments to cover debris removal, infrastructure repair and emergency protective measures, according to the agency.
Other federal agencies have paid $117 million in response and recovery, including 27,000 household repair grants and 7,800 “blue roofs” – the tarps used for temporary roof repair; temporary housing for 971 households; lodging for another 2,000 households in hotels; and rent for 21,000 people.
In June, Congress approved a long-delayed $19.1 billion disaster aid bill with billions eventually bound for Florida. The 70-page bill includes $1.67 billion to repair Tyndall Air Force Base, $2.4 billion in Community Development Block Grants disaster relief funding, $1.65 billion to rebuild damaged highways, $600 in economic assistance programs, $480 million for timber restoration and $150 million for fishery losses that Panhandle residents, businesses and governments can tap into.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, Florida’s senior Republican senator, said he was backing the “Hurricanes Florence and Michael and California Wildfire Tax Relief Act,” which would allow taxpayers to use earned income from the preceding year when claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.
The bill would also allow more taxpayers to claim a deduction for personal casualty losses by removing the requirement to itemize and encourage employers in hard-hit areas to retain employees.
“Providing tax relief so Floridians can use their money to recover would further help those who are still rebuilding their lives and communities,” Rubio said in a statement.
DeSantis stressed Michael recovery will again be a focus of state lawmakers when they convene in January.