Florida lawmakers moving aid bills for Hurricane Michael
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — With disaster aid stalled in Congress, Florida lawmakers on Tuesday began moving legislation aimed at providing money and other assistance to people in the Panhandle still recovering from powerful Hurricane Michael.
A Senate Appropriations panel approved a pair of bills to provide assistance for housing, debris removal, infrastructure repairs and other needs. One measure would create a $300 million loan program out of the “rainy day” reserve fund if lawmakers ultimately decide to approve the money in final budget negotiations.
Democratic Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee, who represents many of the most affected counties, said northwest Florida is still suffering months after Category 4 Hurricane Michael swept ashore in October. Congress has been unable to agree on a roughly $13 billion aid package for multiple U.S. disasters including Michael — meaning state legislators must step in, Montford said.
“If I sound desperate, I am,” Montford said. “We are all Floridians. We’ve got to do everything we can to help these people.”
Among other things, Montford’s bill would create the loan program for local governments and school boards to repair damage, place new emphasis on use of state money for housing needs, authorize a state task force to oversee recovery efforts and direct the state to recommend improved building codes for the area.
The roughly $90 billion budget plans approved separately by the House and Senate each envision spending hundreds of millions of dollars on Hurricane Michael recovery, bringing the total state commitment to about $1.8 billion since the storm struck. Final decisions on precisely how that money would be spent will be made in the next few weeks before lawmakers end their 60-day annual session.
“I wish we could do something today and say we are going to allocate the money right now. People are in deep need,” said Sen. Victor Torres, a Kissimmee Democrat.
A second bill approved Tuesday would set aside a percentage of Florida’s money from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill for hurricane recovery needs in inland northwest counties. States surrounding the Gulf of Mexico where the spill occurred share money from a settlement reached with the Horizon’s operator, British Petroleum, and other entities.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. George Gainer of Panama City would direct the state Department of Economic Opportunity to designate a priority list of recovery infrastructure projects, workforce initiatives and other programs in Calhoun, Gadsden, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Liberty and Washington counties. Most of the spill money has gone to counties directly on the Gulf.
Florida is set to receive about $2 billion over 18 years from the Deepwater Horizon settlements, or about $106 million a year, according to a legislative staff analysis.
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