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DeSantis: More Help Coming for Michael Victims

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mypanhandle.com
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On the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael devastating parts of the Florida Panhandle, Gov. Ron DeSantis attended several events in Panama City on Thursday.

One of those stops was a news conference, in which the Governor outlined past help for the area, and announced more is on the way from a state job growth grant fund.

“The investment we’re going to make here and in Bay County is $2.86 million to help finance the construction of two new roads and an associated underground utilities,” said the Governor. “To serve future housing and apartment developments in Panama City. And I’m glad to be able to make that announcement here at the one-year anniversary.”

According to the Governor, Michael – which roared ashore as the strongest hurricane in U.S. history – damaged 60 percent of the homes in Panama City and eliminated 43 percent of the city’s low-income housing.

“This is an investment that I think will help provide that housing to get the economy back to where we want it,” said DeSantis. “We need the folks to be here; we need the folks to be working right here in Bay County,”

The other announcement dealt with a request he plans to make to the legislature, when the 2020 session convenes on January 14, to use $23 million in interest earned from the Triumph Gulf Coast Trust Fund -- and $2 million from general revenue -- to continue the Department of Emergency Management’s Hurricane Michael Recovery Program.

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Credit KNPR.org
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Hurricane Michael left parts of Panama City devastated.

“This will allow local governments, county governments, school boards and charter schools to use the funds for local revenue loss, local operating funds, infrastructure repair, beach renourishment and debris removal,” DeSantis said. “I would also like these funds to cover cost share for reimbursements, which I know is an ongoing issue for local governments.”

Thousands of people are still homeless a year later, and many businesses have struggled to try to reopen.

“We are currently accepting applications for a special appropriation from the Rural Infrastructure Fund, in Calhoun, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty and Washington Counties,” said Ken Lawson, executive director of the state Department of Economic Opportunity.

“We have $5 million available to these cities and counties,” said Lawson. “To assist with infrastructure projects that would encourage job creation and business investment. And we’re working closely with everyone to be ready to get this money on the streets when we get it in our pockets.”

“We know that housing was such a tremendous problem here; and we know how long it takes through HUD to get money in to do that housing. So how can they help to proliferate and help get this process going?” asked Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki, who was among the entourage gathered to hear the governor’s announcement.

“The announcement the governor made earlier today is absolutely astounding, because it gives us the ability to go ahead and start and have that housing built,” Brudnicki said. “Which is going to help Tyndall [Air Force Base], which is going to help the whole area.”

Volunteer Florida Director Clay Ingram – a former state lawmaker from Pensacola – had his own announcement.

“Volunteer Florida, through our foundation, is announcing the award of $3 million in disaster fund grants to support long-term recovery in the Panhandle,” Ingram said. “We’ve been able to continue to assist Floridians through our national service programs, through the disaster fund through our foundation.”

Volunteer Florida will also begin a disaster case management program through the Federal Emergency Management Administration – FEMA. Ingram said RFPs – requests for proposals – are starting to go out for providers.

“So we’re excited to get disaster case management workers on the street as soon as possible – very excited about that,” Ingram said. “And then also, all the people who have contributed to the disaster fund over the last year for Michael – I want to thank them for their generosity and their understanding of the need. And that need’s going to continue.”

In all, Gov. Ron DeSantis attended five events in Panama City on Thursday. Besides the news conference, he visited a police station, fire station and local restaurant. He then attended an event called "A Night to Reunite" – which was billed as a celebration of the community's strength as it continue to recover from Michael.