Associated Press, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 274

Associated Press

3 appeals for hurricane aid pending in Florida since 2004

Florida communities cleaning up and making repairs after Hurricane Irma may expect the U.S. government to reimburse their costs, but an analysis by The Associated Press shows the Federal Emergency Management Agency make take years to pay those bills — if it pays up at all.

Dozens of requests for reimbursement from FEMA are still pending, including at least three cases in Florida pending for over a decade.

The Escambia County School District and the Community Action Program Committee, a nonprofit organization in Pensacola offering utility and education assistance to low-income families, each have multiple projects that followed Hurricane Ivan in 2004 still being reviewed by FEMA.

Also still under review: work completed by the Archdiocese of Miami after Hurricane Katrina hit the state in 2005 on its way to the Gulf Coast.

Among AP’s review of final appeals of public assistance from FEMA nationally were 103 rulings for requests from local governments and nonprofits in Florida from 1999 through 2013.

The vast majority of Florida’s appeals stemmed from eight hurricanes that impacted the state in 2004 and 2005. Fifteen requests from those two years involved work related to multiple hurricanes.

Overall, FEMA denied 66 appeals totaling more than $162.9 million in Florida. The denials included appeals to cover debris removal officials found ineligible for a variety of reasons, labor costs, structural repairs and projects such as sea oat replenishment at a state park and sediment removal from the St. John’s River.

Another 37 appeals were at least partially granted and received over $36.4 million from FEMA. The approved projects included debris removal from private roads, sinkhole repairs, sand replacement at some beaches and emergency generators at a water and sewage treatment facility.

There are three pending appeals in Florida, according to FEMA’s database, but the data did not include details about the projects except the date they were filed and which storms they were related to.

Miami archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said in an email Friday she could not provide more information on her organization’s pending appeal, though she added a Sept. 28 statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supporting legislation that would ensure religious institutions’ eligibility for federal disaster assistance.

“Perhaps when such an Act of Congress is in place, these claims would no longer be complicated or deemed unfair,” she said.

Officials at the Escambia County school district and the Pensacola community organization did not immediately respond to AP’s requests for more information.

However, the data show another appeal for $1 million from the school district for Ivan debris removal at 25 schools was granted in 2007 after FEMA determined the amount requested as “reasonable.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

States that elected Donald Trump, including Florida, most affected by his health care decision

President Donald Trump‘s decision to end a provision of the Affordable Care Act that was benefiting roughly 6 million Americans helps fulfill a campaign promise, but it also risks harming some of the very people who helped him win the presidency.

Nearly 70 percent of those benefiting from the so-called cost-sharing subsidies live in states Trump won last November, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

The subsidies are paid to insurers by the federal government to help lower consumers’ deductibles and co-pays. People who benefit will continue receiving the discounts because insurers are obligated by law to provide them. But to make up for the lost federal funding, health insurers will have to raise premiums substantially, potentially putting coverage out of reach for many consumers.

Some insurers may decide to bail out of markets altogether.

“I woke up, really, in horror,” said Alice Thompson, 62, an environmental consultant from the Milwaukee area who purchases insurance on Wisconsin’s federally run health insurance exchange.

Thompson, who spoke with reporters on a call organized by a health care advocacy group, said she expects to pay 30 percent to 50 percent more per year for her monthly premium, potentially more than her mortgage payment. Officials in Wisconsin, a state that went for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time in decades last fall, assumed the federal subsidy would end when they approved premium rate increases averaging 36 percent for the coming year.

An estimated 4 million people were benefiting from the cost-sharing payments in the 30 states Trump carried, according to an analysis of 2017 enrollment data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of the 10 states with the highest percentage of consumers benefiting from cost-sharing, all but one — Massachusetts — went for Trump.

Kentucky embraced former President Barack Obama‘s Affordable Care Act under its last governor, a Democrat, and posted some of the largest gains in getting its residents insured. Its new governor, a Republican, favors the GOP stance to replace it with something else.

Roughly half of the estimated 71,000 Kentuckians buying health insurance on the federal exchange were benefiting from the cost-sharing subsidies Trump just ended. Despite the gains from Obama’s law, the state went for Trump last fall even as he vowed to repeal it.

Consumers such as Marsha Clark fear what will happen in the years ahead, as insurers raise premiums on everyone to make up for the end of the federal money that helped lower deductibles and co-pays.

“I’m stressed out about the insurance, stressed out about the overall economy, and I’m very stressed out about our president,” said Clark, a 61-year-old real estate broker who lives in a small town about an hour’s drive south of Louisville. She pays $1,108 a month for health insurance purchased on the exchange.

While she earns too much to benefit from the cost-sharing subsidy, she is worried that monthly premiums will rise so high in the future that it will make insurance unaffordable.

Sherry Riggs has a similar fear. The Fort Pierce, Florida, barber benefits from the deductible and co-pay discounts, as do more than 1 million other Floridians, the highest number of cost-sharing beneficiaries of any state.

She had bypass surgery following a heart attack last year and pays just $10 a visit to see her cardiologist and only a few dollars for the medications she takes twice a day.

Her monthly premium is heavily subsidized by the federal government, but she worries about the cost soaring in the future. Florida, another state that swung for Trump, has approved rate increases averaging 45 percent.

“Probably for some people it would be a death sentence,” she said. “I think it’s kind of a tragic decision on the president’s part. It scares me because I don’t think I’ll be able to afford it next year.”

Rates already were rising in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s decision. Insurance regulators in Arkansas, another state that went for Trump, approved premium increases on Friday ranging from 14 percent to nearly 25 percent for plans offered through the insurance marketplace. Had federal cost-sharing been retained, the premiums would have risen by no more than 10 percent.

In Mississippi, another state Trump won, an estimated 80 percent of consumers who buy coverage on the insurance exchange benefit from the deductible and co-pay discounts, the highest percentage of any state. Premiums there will increase by 47 percent next year, after regulators assumed Trump would end the cost-sharing payments.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has estimated the loss of the subsidies would result in a 12 percent to 15 percent increase in premiums, while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has put the figure at 20 percent. Experts say the political instability over Trump’s effort to undermine Obama’s health care law could prompt more insurers to leave markets, reducing competition and driving up prices.

In announcing his decision, Trump argued the subsidies were payouts to insurance companies, and the government could not legally continue to make them. The subsidies have been the subject of an ongoing legal battle because the health care law failed to include a congressional appropriation, which is required before federal money can be spent.

The subsidies will cost about $7 billion this year.

Many Republicans praised Trump’s action, saying Obama’s law has led to a spike in insurance costs for those who have to buy policies on the individual market.

Among them is Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, a state Trump won. An estimated 78,000 Arizonans were benefiting from the federal subsidies for deductibles and co-pays.

“While his actions do not take the place of real legislative repeal and revitalization of free-market health care, he is doing everything possible to save Americans from crippling health care costs and decreasing quality of care,” Biggs said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida expects hundreds of displaced Puerto Rican students

Thousands of Puerto Rican children displaced by Hurricane Maria are expected to enroll in Florida and other U.S. public schools this year.

Most of the island’s 1,112 public schools are closed due to hurricane damage, and schools throughout Florida are preparing for the possibility that thousands of new students will come, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Ten-year-old Samiliz Ruiz Collazo and her 14-year-old brother Mizraim arrived in central Florida on Friday, and immediately commented on the electric lights lit over their heads. It was something they hadn’t seen in almost a month.

Their home’s water cistern had been ripped off the roof by the storm, and they had no power. So their parents sent the children from Puerto Rico to stay with their grandmother, who lives in Deltona in Volusia County.

She bought cases of Malta India, their favorite Puerto Rican soft drink, to help them feel at home.

“I feel pretty calm,” said Beatriz Rodriguez, the grandmother. “They can be one month, two months without their parents, because they’re used to spending summers with me.”

Volusia County public schools’ spokeswoman Nancy Wait says the county overestimated the number of students they would receive, so she expects that they’ll have plenty of space.

In central Florida alone, 292 students have enrolled in Orange County, and 150 in two other area counties.

“We know it’s traumatic. We’ll do whatever we need to do to make sure they get in a classroom as soon as possible,” Wait told the newspaper.

The students from Puerto Rico will also be classified by Volusia County as homeless, meaning they won’t have to show birth certificates, immunization records and can qualify for free lunches and other programs.

Julia Keleher, the island’s education secretary, says only 167 Puerto Rican schools are open to students at the moment, so they have been working with U.S. districts in Florida and elsewhere to help support the displaced children.

“We’ll do our part, we’re going to share that responsibility until the dust settles,” Keleher said.

Twitter turns over ‘handles’ of 201 Russia-linked accounts

Twitter has handed over to Senate investigators the profile names, or “handles,” of 201 accounts linked to Russian attempts at influencing the 2016 presidential election. The company has stepped up its efforts to cooperate with investigators after it was criticized for not taking congressional probes seriously enough.

The handover occurred this week, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly about it.

What remains unclear is whether posts associated with those accounts have been deleted from Twitter’s servers. Politico reported on Friday that the company had deleted the tweets in line with its privacy policy. Twitter had no comment on that report.

The company’s policy calls for removing tweets that a user deletes on their own. But that policy also states that some tweets can survive the process. For instance, retweets of deleted tweets will remain live if the retweeter added a comment. Twitter also can’t remove tweets that have been temporarily stored, or “cached,” by services such as Google or reposted on other sites.

Twitter might be able to recover some information about any deleted tweets, according to another person familiar with the situation who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. That person added that the company is working with investigators to find information that’s useful.

The account handles previously hadn’t been submitted in part due to legal privacy issues, the person said.

Twitter is set to appear Nov. 1 before the Senate intelligence committee at a public hearing. Both Facebook and Google have been invited to testify at the same hearing.

Twitter previously uncovered the accounts linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency — a notorious “troll farm” known for pushing out pro-Russian positions via fake accounts — by using information provided by Facebook, which found 470 Russia-linked pages or accounts. After looking for patterns linking those accounts and pages to accounts on its service, Twitter said it had suspended 22 accounts that pushed divisive social or political issues during the 2016 campaign. It found another 179 related or linked accounts and took action against those that violated its spam rules.

The company enforces an anti-spam policy against bots and human users that exhibit unusual behavior. Such flags include having multiple accounts repeatedly retweet the same posts or having multiple accounts follow or block other users.

After Twitter’s initial closed-door briefing with the Senate committee late last month, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner — the top Democrat on the committee — called the company’s findings “frankly inadequate ” and “derivative” of Facebook’s work.

Friday the 13th: Flight 666 makes it safely to HEL

The Helsinki airport says Flight 666 has arrived safely in HEL — the airport code for the Finnish capital — for the last time.

The Finnair flight took off from Copenhagen, Denmark, in the 13th hour of Friday the 13th, headed for Helsinki Vantaa airport.

Finavia, which operates Finland’s 21 airports, says the flight landed eight minutes ahead of schedule at 3:47 p.m. local.

The flight started 11 years ago and has fallen on Friday the 13th 21 times with no reported ill effects.

Still, Finnair has decided to retire the flight number. As the carrier is switching around some flight numbers later this month, Flight AY666 will become AY954.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

‘Morning Joe’ host Joe Scarborough officially leaves GOP

MSNBC host and former Republican Congressman Joe Scarborough has made his departure from the GOP official.

The “Morning Joe” anchor said on Twitter on Thursday that he became an independent and he added a picture of himself with an elections official in New Canaan, Connecticut, smiling while holding a form.

Scarborough announced that he would leave the party in July and accused Republicans of abandoning their fiscal principles. Scarborough has been a fierce critic of President Donald Trump, who has targeted Scarborough and his fiancee and co-host Mika Brzezinski on Twitter.

Scarborough was elected to four U.S. House terms from Florida starting in 1994.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida confirms 1st local Zika infection for 2017

Florida health officials are reporting the state’s first case this year of the Zika virus transmitted by a local mosquito.

Florida’s Department of Health said Thursday a Manatee County couple traveled to Cuba, and one of them contracted Zika while on the Caribbean island and was bitten by a mosquito after returning home.

That mosquito then bit and transmitted the virus to the other partner. Officials wouldn’t identify the sex of the couple, citing privacy laws.

Officials say there’s no evidence of ongoing, active transmission along Florida’s Gulf coast, or anywhere in the state.

Florida reported 296 locally acquired Zika infections last year.

Zika causes relatively mild symptoms in most adults but can cause severe birth defects in babies of some women infected during pregnancy. The virus also can be transmitted sexually.

John Ward announces run for Ron DeSantis’ seat

A Republican Florida businessman isn’t waiting for Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis to make up his mind about his political future before running for his seat.

John Ward announced Thursday he’s running for DeSantis’ seat as the incumbent decides whether to run for governor or seek a fourth term.

Ward, a business investor and Navy veteran, is running as a pro-President Donald Trump candidate and an outsider who’s frustrated with business as usual in Washington.

He’s a multi-millionaire who plans to combine traditional fundraising with his own wealth to pay for the campaign, pledging to have at least $1 million in his account by January.

Democrat Nancy Soderberg, who once served as ambassador to the United Nations, is also running for the seat in the northeast Florida district that favors Republicans.

Mark Zuckerberg sorry for virtual tour of devastated Puerto Rico

Mark Zuckerberg has apologized for showcasing Facebook’s virtual reality capability with a tour of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.

The Facebook founder and another executive discussed the platform’s virtual reality project through avatars in a video recorded live Monday.

The video begins with the avatars pictured on the roof of Facebook’s Mountain View, California, headquarters before heading to Puerto Rico by using a 360-degree video recorded by National Public Radio as a backdrop.

Zuckerberg later responded to critics, writing that his goal of showing “how VR can raise awareness and help us see what’s happening in different parts of the world” wasn’t clear. He says he’s sorry to anyone who was offended.

Facebook is also working to restore internet connectivity on the island and has donated money to the relief effort.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

2 more dead from Florida nursing home that lost AC in Irma

Two women who lived at a Florida nursing home that lost air conditioning during Hurricane Irma have died, becoming the 13th and 14th fatalities linked to the home.

Hollywood police spokeswoman Miranda Grossman told The Associated Press on Monday that Cecilia Franco, 90, and Francesca Andrade, 95, died from ailments suffered when the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills lost power Sept. 10 during the hurricane’s passage.

On Sept. 13, eight residents died and other residents were evacuated from the sweltering facility after the electric transformer that powered the facility’s air conditioning was damaged during the storm. Grossman didn’t say exactly when the women died, but said police are treating the deaths as part of the criminal investigation.

The Miami Herald reports Franco’s husband Miguel Antonio Franco, who also had lived at the home, died Sept. 13.

No one has been charged.

The state has suspended the home’s license. Last week, the facility let go of 245 workers, including doctors, nurses, therapists and others.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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