More than seven months after Hurricane Michael devastated parts of Florida’s Panhandle, Congress has finally approved a financial disaster relief package that will bring billions of dollars of needed aid to the still struggling area.
But two Florida Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives – Greg Steube from Southwest Florida and Francis Rooney from Naples – were among 58 Republicans who voted against the long-delayed $19.1 billion disaster aid bill Monday night.
Their opposition was duly noted on Tuesday by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who was born and raised in Panama City. Patronis’ hometown was ravaged by the Category 5 storm.
“If I was in their district, I’d vote ‘em out,” Patronis said while speaking to reporters following a Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee. “Those individuals that do not realize the harm and suffering that’s happening in Northwest Florida and the recovery that we’re trying to endure right now, for them to put themselves over the better good of the recovery of other citizens in the United States is shameful. Unfortunately, it’s a round world and they’ll probably get what’s coming to them somewhere, somehow.”
Both Congressmen said they voted against the bill because they thought it was fiscally irresponsible.
“While I’m glad the panhandle received the funding it desperately needed, I could not in good conscience vote for the Supplemental Appropriation which was filled with outrageous spending an no plan to pay for it,” Steube said in a statement. “I ran for Congress refusing to add to the national debt, and this bill had a high price tag with no offset.”
“It has become all too common for Congress to use disaster funding to break through spending caps that are in place,” said Rooney in a statement. “There are legitimate needs for funding to assist with recovery from horrific natural disasters that affected Florida and other states around the country, however I could not support a bill that is completely fiscally irresponsible.”
On his Facebook page, Rooney received a few complaints for his vote.
“Thanks for voting against disaster relief for people in your own state,” wrote Ester Stoltzfus. ”You obviously have not visited the counties in north Florida that were devasted by Hurricane Michael.”
“What is WRONG with you, Rooney?” wrote Christiana Viaene Dickerson. “Why would you vote against that bill?”
Patronis was effusive in praising Florida’s two U.S. Senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, as well as the region’s Congressman, Republican Neil Dunn, for advocating for the funding package.
“They fought tirelessly,” he said.
According to Sen. Rubio, Florida’s agriculture industry will have access to more than $4.4 billion in funding from the bill. It will also provide $1.67 billion in funding for the Air Force to help rebuild Tyndall Air Force Base between Panama City and Mexico Beach.
About 700 structures on the base were damaged by the storm, and nearly one-third were destroyed, according to the Air Force.
The bill also includes hundreds of millions of dollars for Puerto Rico – which was a key dispute between congressional Democrats and President Trump during negotiations for the funding package. That includes $600 million for disaster nutrition assistance, $304 million in Community Development Block Grant funds and $5 million for a Puerto Rico Nutrition Study to assess the impact of additional benefits provided through disaster nutrition assistance.
The disaster aid package’s passage came after three previous “unanimous consent” voice votes in the House of Representative failed, with a single Republican opposing each time.