Finally: After 7 months, disaster aid appears to be forthcoming for devastated Panhandle

Hurricane Michael survivors after the storm. #neverforgottencoast documentary project

The U.S. Senate has passed long-awaited legislation to provide $19.1-billion in disaster relief for Puerto Rico, Florida and other areas crippled by hurricanes, floods and other catastrophes.

The House is moving to act as well, but Republican U.S. Senator Marco Rubio tweeted today that it won’t be until next week at the earliest.

Rubio tweeted: “The U.S. House tried to pass #DisasterRelief bill by voice vote but unfortunately it had one member object. This means bill will not head to @potus until the full House votes on it. They are adjourned until Tuesday, May 28th, so that is the earliest it will be voted on.”

Rubio earlier tweeted that the disaster aid bill includes $2.4-billion that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development can use to help Northwest Florida, which was devasted by Hurricane Michael last October. The bill also provides more than a billion to begin rebuilding at Tyndall Air Force Base in the Panhandle, according to Rubio, plus $480-million for timber restoration and $150 million for fishery losses.

When the aid package passed the Senate, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott issued a statement, saying, in part: “I’m glad we finally secured the funding the Panhandle needs to continue recovering.”

Winds at Hurricane Michael’s landfall were as high as 160 miles per hour and the storm surge was as high as 16 feet. It’s the fourth strongest storm ever to hit the U.S., the National Hurricane Center says, and the first Category 5 storm to hit the U.S. since Andrew slammed into Miami in 1992.

The months-long wait for help became a political saga in the state capital, as Florida watched a gridlocked Congress stymied by in-fighting. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, a Republican and Panama City native, was particularly incensed.

At a news conference last month, Patronis choked up several times as he described the devastation across the Panhandle. In the 15-county disaster area, residents are still living in tents or under tarpaulins. Hospitals have cut services. So have schools. Insured losses are pegged at $11.1 billion.

Democrat Gwen Graham, who represented parts of the area while serving in Congress, is co-chair of a bipartisan private relief effort called Rebuild 850, (850 is a telephone area code) along with former Republican Florida House speakers Allan Bense and Will Weatherford. (Another local charity to check out: #neverforgottencoast )

After the Senate’s vote, Graham tweeted: “It took way too long to get this done, but good news.”

Then, when the aid package failed a voice vote in the U.S. House by a single vote, Graham tweeted: “You have got to be kidding me.”

 

 

Diane Rado
Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune. She has a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University and did a fellowship in education reform at the University of Michigan in 1999-2000. She is married to a journalist and has three adult children.

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