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Federal Share of Irma Recovery Costs May Increase

John Davis, WGCU
(from left) Lee Comm. Ray Sandelli, Lee Manager Roger Desjarlais, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Lee Comm Cecil Pendergrass, State Rep. Byron Donalds, State Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, State. Rep. Dane Eagle, State Sen. Joe Gruters, DEM Director Jared Moskowitz

Hurricane Irma recovery costs have reached an amount that may trigger an increase in the share of recovery money covered through the federal public assistance program.

Irma struck Florida as a Category four hurricane on September 10, 2017, and on Aug. 14 ongoing recovery costs reached the $2.63 billion mark. 

Under federal rules, that threshold could increase the federal government’s cost share from 75% to 90%, which Governor Ron DeSantis said could save the state and local governments more than $160 million. 

DeSantis formally requested the 15% increase in the federal government’s cost share for Irma recovery in a letter to President Donald Trump.  DeSantis made the announcement Monday at theLee County Emergency Operations Center along with Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, members of Southwest Florida’s state legislative delegation and several Lee County officials.

“The President can do 90% pretty much at his will and that’s what he did with Hurricane Michael, but it’s pretty standard that once you reach this threshold that’s listed in the federal rules and regulations that it’s kind of a pro-forma thing,” said DeSantis.  “So we look forward to the President’s response on that.”

DeSantis said the additional federal money would provide much-needed financial reprieve, especially for some of Southwest Florida’s smaller governments.  “Some of the smaller municipalities would have debris costs that outstripped their entire operating budget and so to be able to have the federal reimbursement is a really big deal,” said DeSantis.

During the announcement, State Division of Emergency Management Director Moskowitz touted policy changes made at DeSantis’ behest to get hurricane recovery dollars to affected communities more quickly and efficiently.

“When communities obviously got hit with the clean-up and the costs, because money wasn’t flowing fast enough, you had cities and counties depleting their reserves or taking loans out,” said Moskowitz.  “And in order to service that loan debt they were spending taxpayer money paying off the debt while they were waiting for their taxpayer money (to be) reimbursed.  It’s not how government should work.  It was unacceptable. And it’s why under the governor’s direction and leadership we went to fix that on day one.”

Moskowitz said in the past six months, his agency has distributed $500 million to Hurricane Irma recipients.  “Why do I bring up that six month time line?” asked Moskowitz.  “Because the first six months after Irma only $600,000 hit recipients and if you compare that to Hurricane Michael, because the Governor asked FEMA to turn on the expedited payment program, in six months we were able to get out $203 million for Hurricane Michael.”

Lee County Commission Chair Brian Hamman was among the local elected officials on hand for the announcement.  He credits the DeSantis Administration with helping Lee County acquire federal grants to help harden hurricane shelters.  Hamman said county staff are working on getting generators into more schools to serve as hurricane shelters during future storms.

June 1 marks the official start of the Atlantic storm season, but 85% of all hurricane activity in the Atlantic Basin typically starts to occur around mid-August.  Moskowitz says the Florida Division of Emergency Management continues to prepare for possible storms and he encourages Floridians to do the same.  “We used to say we want you to have three days’ worth of supplies,” said Moskowitz.  “Now we’re saying we want you to have seven days’ worth of supplies.”

For more information on hurricane preparedness, DeSantis directs residents to www.floridadisaster.org/getaplan

Governor DeSantis’ letter to President Trump can be read in full here:  https://news.wgcu.org/sites/wgcu/files/DeSantisToTrump.pdf

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