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Florida Officials Call on Congress to Act on Michael Cleanup


More than six months after Hurricane Michael hit Mexico Beach in the Panhandle with Category-5 clout, members of the state Cabinet and lawmakers gathered last week to discuss funding for recovery.

Speaking at the state Capitol, the bipartisan group mirrored the increasing frustration about inaction in Washington -- calling on state and federal lawmakers to provide more money for recovery. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Panama City resident, says it feels like the Florida Panhandle has been forgotten.

“A recovery bill sits withering in Congress while our citizens are suffering,” said Patronis. “I sent a letter today to Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi; Leader [Mitch] McConnell, Leader [Kevin] McCarthy and Leader [Chuck] Schumer, demanding that they set aside politics – just as we have today – and step up for our victims of Hurricane Michael.”

Farmers are voicing concerns about being unable to obtain loans to begin spring planting; and Bay County School District officials are warning that layoffs are possible without state and federal assistance for basic operations.

“It’s been 200 days since landfall, and we have seen no action on behalf of Washington,” Patronis said. “Relief packages for Hurricane Andrew, Katrina and Sandy took a fraction of the time than what we’re seeing here. Funding must be immediately passed and sent immediately.”

The intensity of the storm has been upgraded, making Michael the first Category-5 storm to hit the U.S. since Andrew came ashore in South Florida in 1992. Estimated insured losses have topped $6.2 billion, according to the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

Credit fladems.org
Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis.

“North Florida, per capita, is one of the poorest parts of this state; as a matter of fact, it’s one of the poorest parts in this country,” said State Senator Bill Montford, who represents several rural counties affected by Michael. “It is unacceptable, morally wrong, and just flat-out almost corrupt, the fact that we can’t get Washington to do their job. We have children and families who are still living in tents throughout north Florida.”

“That is wrong.”

Michael came ashore near Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base, causing devastation there, in Panama City, and communities such as Port St. Joe, Blountstown and Marianna before roaring into South Georgia.

“We have spent now three or four trips out to the Panhandle in bipartisan support to show the impact of what has happened out in the Panhandle,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “The fact that we have waited six-plus months for disaster relief money from the federal government is absolutely unacceptable.”

Michael created 72 million tons of debris across the Panhandle, about 10 times more than was left by Hurricane Irma in 2017. Fried says most of that junk remains on the ground, posing an extra threat.

Credit wjct.org
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

“This disaster debris that is on the ground is going to light on fire over the summer; putting in harm’s way those of us who are going to be protecting the land from my Forestry,” Fried warned. “And those who have already been hurt and damaged the first time from this Category-5 hurricane will now will receive a double-whammy when the fires begin.”

State Rep. Jay Trumbull -- a Panama City Republican who has filed numerous bills seeking more than $600 million in state assistance for the region -- says partisan politics shouldn't play a role in getting the package passed.

“It’s probably already been said, but the fact that if Congress is playing politics with the Panhandle is absolutely out of control, insane, a travesty,” said Turnbull. “There are not enough terrible adjectives to use to describe the incompetence of what that place is doing.”

The legislation would also aid victims of disasters in Georgia, California, Alaska, North Carolina and Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced that Florida is getting a $5.8 million federal grant to pay those left unemployed by Michael to work in cleanup jobs.