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Florida to request more FEMA help, disburse more federal funds as Ian recovery drags on

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks in Fort Myers on Friday, March 17, 2023.

Posted on March 22, 2023

At a news conference Friday morning in a Fort Myers restaurant, hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis to discuss ongoing Hurricane Ian recovery efforts in South Florida, a local man named Stanley got choked up as he tried to describe how the storm changed his life.

“I lost everything except a car and some clothes that I evacuated with. I lost a business — my business wasn’t structured to make money, it was more of a patriotic thing, I put out flags on six holidays a year plus 9/11, charge a minimum amount — but I lost my truck and I don’t put those flags out anymore, I’d like to do it again,” he said. “But, I would be remiss if I didn’t echo Congressman Donalds’ remarks about FEMA. I could go on all day. I won’t, but what I see a need for around here is we seem to be forgotten already.”

Stanley was referencing comments made before him by Rep. Byron Donalds, R-District 19, who spoke at the conference to praise DeSantis and to criticize the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s “very, very slow, if not tepid” response to housing needs in South Florida after Ian.

“Now their big argument that they’d like to make is, is that, well, a lot of the affected area are in flood zones. They don’t put trailers in flood zones, but this is not a normal situation, this is an emergency situation, this is a recovery situation. I’ve had a very candid conversation with FEMA and I’m having a very public declaration towards FEMA to cut the red tape to get people the housing they need immediately,” Donalds said. “We have about two hundred residents who are not out of the area completely simply because FEMA has not been able to respond to their needs as effectively as possible, so all told, the full number of displaced is around 1,500 to 1,600 residents throughout Southwest Florida.”

The event at Oxbow Bar and Grill also featured Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie, who announced the state intends to formally request of FEMA a 60-day extension of the 180-day period allotted in Section 1206 of the Disaster Recovery Reform Act of 2018 during which the agency is authorized to provide resources needed to sort out building codes and floodplain management ordinances following a major disaster declaration.

“That’s an awful lot of federal and state government gobbledygook to say this: Communities are having problems with permitting right now and communities need assistance with bandwidth on that permitting. FEMA has a program called 1206 that allows us to put private-sector-type permit inspectors in to help out with the need that’s there. That is coming to an end on March 28, but there’s a great need, so we’re going to ask FEMA and the White House to extend that for another 60 days or at least negotiate with us that we may be able to slide the 180-day time backwards to when we actually started issuing permits,” Guthrie said.

Hurricane Ian made landfall near Fort Myers on Sept. 28, 2022. By January, both FEMA and the state had begun to deploy travel trailers as a way to temporarily house Floridians while repairs were made to their main living arrangements. As the housing mission continued, problems arose when it came to establishing trailers in designated floodplains, something that goes against FEMA regulations and would affect an area’s eligibility in the National Flood Insurance Program.

At the conference Friday, DeSantis brought it up, claiming Florida has “taken the reins” from FEMA in this regard because it’s deployed at least 44 more trailers than the federal agency has.

“So we believe that we needed to spring into action and so Florida was the- we’re the first state that’s ever launched a state-funded housing initiative, and so as of today, Florida has been able to provide 504 impacted families with travel trailers, FEMA has provided 460 families with travel trailers, and so this is- even though that’s something that FEMA typically does, we’re taken- we’ve taken the reins and we’ve actually done more travel trailers than they have,” DeSantis said.

As of Feb. 21, FEMA had provided more than $1 billion in relief to Floridians impacted by Hurricane Ian through Individual Assistance funds, adding to other figures such as $2.29 billion in claims paid out by the National Flood Insurance Program, $1.68 billion in low-interest disaster loans approved by the U.S. Small Business Administration and $552 million obligated by FEMA’s Public Assistance program to reimburse the cost of debris removal and emergency response, according to the agency.

DeSantis acknowledged the federal cashflow at the conference, announcing “federal resiliency funds” would fuel the following newly-approved reimbursements for local governments of communities impacted by the storm:

$22.2 million – Collier County

$31.9 million – Lee County

$2.4 million – City of Sanibel

$14.2 million – City of Fort Myers

$7.6 million – Fort Myers Beach

“We want the federal government to help whoever, you know, needs Individual Assistance, all that, but we’re not going to be limited by that and we’re going to make sure that we’re finding ways to be able to help and so the fact that we’ve done more travel trailers in this new state program — which no state has ever done — than FEMA has done, and this is kind of their bread and butter, shows you these guys are really working hard on your behalf,” DeSantis said.

Additionally, DeSantis said two awards from the Florida Disaster Fund would inject the nonprofit arm of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association with $3 million and a new small business recovery impact program with $4 million, respectively. The small business program would apply to businesses outside of the hospitality sector, making them eligible for $50,000 grants to support employees and to rebuild, he said.


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