Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration continues to target hospitals for potential Medicaid spending reductions in the coming year.
The Agency for Health Care Administration’s top four proposed budget cuts for the Legislature to consider during the 2018 session would reduce Medicaid payments to hospitals by nearly $1 billion. Those reductions would be on top of nearly $500 million in recurring cuts made to hospitals during the 2017 session.
“It would be devastating, for goodness sakes,” said Jan Gorrie, a hospital lobbyist and managing partner of the Tampa office of Ballard Partners. “I’m surprised to see the magnitude of the cut. It’s mind-blowing. It’s like, whoa.”
In addition to a list of proposed reductions for the Legislature to consider, AHCA also submitted its proposed budget requests for the upcoming year. It includes a request for an additional $66 million to cover a deficit in the Children’s Medical Services managed-care plan for the current year. The deficit is a result of lower enrollment in the Medicaid specialty plan than anticipated.
The agency also is requesting $925,000 for analytics of data submitted to what is known as the all-payer claims database. And $700,000 so the agency can implement a new Medicaid prepaid dental health program for children and adults.
Meanwhile, the agency’s top recommendation to save money is to alter a current policy that provides retroactive Medicaid eligibility for the 90 days prior to a beneficiary’s application being submitted. AHCA is recommending that the state trim retroactive eligibility to 30 days.
During the retroactive period, the state picks up the health care bills that accrued in the three months including paying for “uncoordinated and potentially inappropriate utilization of medical services,” budget documents note.
Trimming retroactive eligibility from 90 days to 30 days would reduce Medicaid spending by $98.4 million according to the agency’s budget documents. Hospitals would lose $58.3 million if the Legislature were to agree to the change.
Agencies annually compile proposed reduction lists as part of the budget process. The question is whether or not the Legislature will, in fact, target the areas that have been identified by the agencies in what is expected to be a tight budget year.
A financial outlook prepared by state economists in September said Florida’s surplus may be as small as $52 million, but those projections did not include the state’s costs responding to Hurricane Irma.
AHCA compiled a list of six proposed spending reductions and assigned each proposal a priority number. The agency’s second-highest priority is reducing the amount Medicaid spends on reimbursing hospitals by $318 million in total funds by eliminating automatic rate enhancements.
Its third recommendation is restricting participation in the Medicaid “Medically Needy” program to about 1,600 pregnant women and children. The move would eliminate coverage for about 27,000 people currently covered under the program. The program provides Medicaid access to people who don’t qualify for Medicaid because of their income levels.
The fourth recommendation is eliminating an optional Medicaid program that provides coverage to 51,057 aged, blind and disabled people with incomes above what’s allowable for Social Security income but below 88 percent of the federal poverty level. Eliminating the “Meds AD” program would reduce total spending by $558 million.
The Medically Needy program and the Meds AD program have been offered up in the past by the agency as potential ways to save money, but the Legislature has not chosen to reduce them.
AHCA’s fifth recommendation is to reduce $135,150,336 in the Home and Community Based Services Waiver funding. It is “double budgeted” according to budget documents.
Lastly, the Legislature could reduce spending in Medicaid HMOs by 5.16 percent, or nearly $475 million. To achieve that level of reduction, though, the state would have to eliminate some of the services that currently are covered under the Medicaid managed care program, which would require federal approval.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
Former House Speaker Will Weatherford is endorsing Ardian Zika for the Pasco County-based House District 37 seat.
“I’ve known Ardian Zika for the past decade, and he is absolutely the best person to represent District 37 as our State Representative,” said Weatherford in a statement. “Ardian’s story is one of hard work and dedication. He is proof that if you have a dream and work hard, you can achieve success.”
The 37-year-old Zika was born in the former Yugoslavia and emigrated to the U.S. from Kosovo in 1997. He spent the past 14 years in the banking industry before starting up his own business advisory company, Guardian & Company I, earlier this year.
“His passion for our country and for Pasco County is evident from the moment you first meet him,” Weatherford added. “His strong financial background will help him fight for our shared values of lower taxes while growing and strengthening our economy for all us.”
“I am honored and humbled to have the endorsement of Speaker Will Weatherford,” said Zika.
Weatherford had previously contributed $1,000 to Zika’s campaign, as he and the rest of the Pasco County GOP establishment have shown that they are firmly behind his candidacy to succeed current House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who is term-limited out of his seat next year.
Florida Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson endorsed Zika last week.
Weatherford has stayed out of electoral politics since leaving the House of Representatives in 2014. He announced shortly before Christmas last year that he would not run for governor in 2018. He currently works as a managing partner of Weatherford Partners, a capital investment and strategist advisory firm that is based in Tampa.
George Agovino, Elle Rudisell and Bill Gunter have also entered the HD 37 primary.
Raises will be provided to 16 upper-level and mid-level employees of Enterprise Florida, as the state’s business-recruitment agency does away with a controversial bonus program.
The Enterprise Florida Executive Committee voted unanimously during a conference call Friday to approve a recommendation — supported by Gov. Rick Scott — to replace the bonus program.
The pay increases are seen by committee members as a way to maintain Enterprise Florida without causing an exodus of employees. The public-private agency has faced heavy scrutiny during the past year, with House leaders even seeking to eliminate it.
“No one is excited about taking away the bonuses, but it does make sense given the fact that the Legislature has expressed an interest in this,” committee member Holly Borgmann said.
The raises — retroactive to July 1 — range from $3,000 to $25,000 and will increase payroll by $118,000 for the year, under the plan outlined for the committee.
In August, several members of the executive committee expressed concern that withholding performance pay, when employees have done an “admirable job” in difficult times, could result in an exodus of experience.
“Certainly, none of us foresaw this path coming in the previous weeks and months,” committee Chairman Stan Connally, who is also president and CEO of Pensacola-based Gulf Power, said during the conference call Friday. “We want to be sure we’re fairly compensating this team.”
In a memo Thursday to the committee, Enterprise Florida President and CEO Pete Antonacci explained that while the bonus program has worked, it has also been a source of criticism.
“The bonus practice, typically across the board, has had the effect of smoothing over rough spots (under payment) while at once creating unwarranted expectation (over payment),” Antonacci said in the memo. “Under circumstances and for reasons known well to all, staff bonuses are an object of public derision and will not ever be well accepted.”
“Practically speaking,” Antonacci continued, “most Floridians having opinion about EFI at all, believe our employees are public servants in the broadest sense.”
Last October, Enterprise Florida handed out $448,662 in bonuses to 57 employees.
In 2015, with up to $765,000 in bonuses being offered, then-President Bill Johnson received $50,000, half of what he could have received, despite being on the job for just six months.
A year earlier, the Enterprise Florida board approved a $120,000 bonus to then-President Gray Swoope, surpassing a $100,000 cap, while also approving $765,000 in bonuses.
The bonus program, which officials promoted as coming from money pooled by private contributions rather than tax dollars, was tied to a series of recruitment and hiring objectives for each year.
The possibility of scuttling bonuses came after the House this year sought to eliminate Enterprise Florida and the tourism-marketing agency Visit Florida. The House’s efforts were ultimately blocked by the Senate and Scott.
The Legislature settled on cutting state money for Enterprise Florida’s daily operations from $23.5 million in 2016-2017 to $16 million for the budget year that began July 1.
Along with the revised funding, lawmakers also imposed new rules such as increasing financial-disclosure requirements and prohibiting the use of tax dollars for performance bonuses or severance pay unless authorized by law.
Also, any employee pay exceeding the governor’s authorized salary of $130,000 a year must be funded out of private contributions.
Antonacci said Friday the agency has sufficient resources to cover the raises.
Under the plan outlined for the committee Friday, the largest raise, $25,000, will go to Senior Vice President of Business Development Tim Vanderhoof.
Vanderhoof, who would see his annual salary grow to $155,000, will also take over marketing for the agency.
The second-largest raise, $13,000, will go to Heather Shubrig, who serves under Vanderhoof as vice president of business development. She currently is paid $80,000 a year.
Manny Mencia, the senior vice president of international trade and development, will get a $4,000 raise. Mencia, who oversees the agency’s trade missions, currently is paid $160,000 a year.
Comptroller Robert Schlotman will see a $10,000 increase in pay, to $130,000 a year, with a promotion to senior vice president.
Antonacci and Executive Vice President Mike Grissom — who served as interim president before Antonacci joined the agency in August — were not among those up for raises.
In August, Scott sent a letter to members of the boards of directors at Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida outlining his opposition to employee bonuses.
“Employees are the key to success in any organization,” Scott, who serves as chairman of Enterprise Florida board, said in the letter. “But, after a long legislative session where the spending at these organizations was greatly debated, I do not believe that employee compensation should include bonuses at this time.”
Instead, Scott advised the agencies to review employee pay “to ensure that everyone is being compensated fairly relying on salaries rather than bonuses.”
Visit Florida, which gave out $440,915 in bonuses to 119 employees in May, has announced it has ended the performance reward program.
The Florida citrus industry is in crisis post-Irma, with flooding having wrought a singular devastation to the crop and trees themselves.
In the hopes of helping the imperiled citrus sector — specifically farmers whose groves suffered physical or economic damage during the storm — Florida Gov. Rick Scott Friday activated a $25 million Florida Citrus Emergency Loan Program.
The application process ends at the end of November. Growers are eligible for up to $150,000 each of the $25 million available.
In a statement, Gov. Scott noted that Irma caused “hundreds of millions of dollars of losses for the Florida citrus industry,” and the emergency loans will be a “valuable resource for affected business owners.”
Scott is working with United States Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in the hopes of getting federal relief.
“We’re all committed to getting growers the help they need, as quickly as possible, to be able to rebuild. I thank Governor Scott for his leadership and for making financial assistance available for Florida’s growers devastated by Hurricane Irma,” Putnam said.
Putnam and Scott have been talking since the storm about the damage inflicted on the ag sector, including a scheduled phone call Wednesday.
Scott noted on Wednesday in Jacksonville that some growers he’d talked with had lost their entire year of crops — a good example of what Commissioner Putnam previously called the “existential” impact of Irma’s destruction on Florida’s agriculture sector.
The loans obviously won’t make up for all the damage wrought by Irma.
As the Associated Press reported Wednesday, Irma inflicted more than $2.5 billion in damage to Florida’s agricultural community — with $760 million in damages to oranges alone.
Jacksonville politics are returning to normal after a wild summer that included a newly assertive City Council flexing its muscles over Mayor Lenny Curry’s budget, followed by impacts from Hurricane Irma that are only now receding.
Politicians, as you will read below, are still working to pick up the pieces, as photo ops are now replaced by the more quotidian work of relief and securing federal reimbursements for debris removal.
Local budgets have been approved for a new fiscal year, meaning that the pyrotechnic posturing will — especially as the holiday season approaches — dial down.
That said, we can now turn our attention to approaching storms: those being the 2018 Legislative Session (for which bills are being filed), 2018 campaigns for state office (which will see a lot of pre-primary action on the Republican side), and the 2019 Jacksonville municipal campaigns (for which candidates are filing).
Expect moves (in some cases) to be as quiet as possible — and expect us to listen at the keyholes for the whispers … and tell you the important stuff.
John Rutherford talks Irma recovery
U.S. Rep. Rutherfordtook to the House floor this week to discuss the response to Hurricane Irma, lauding the first responders and National Guardsmen who are so pivotal in the reaction.
But Rutherford’s comments looked forward as well; namely, to ensure Florida — specifically Northeast Florida — gets what is necessary for recovery.
“Mr. Speaker,” Rutherford said, “the Florida delegation in this House is now unified to ensure that Floridians receive the Federal support they need to recover from this horrible natural disaster, Hurricane Irma.”
Rutherford added that “the Port of Jacksonville is ground zero for getting shipments of needed goods to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In fact, the American Maritime Partnership and the entire U.S. maritime industry are, first responders in times of emergency like Irma and Maria when they strike Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.”
Indeed, just this week Gov. Rick Scott visited JAXPORT to see shipments of goods headed to Puerto Rico.
Speaker Paul Ryan should be acutely aware of Jacksonville’s strategic importance in relief efforts; he came through Jacksonville last month as part of his post-Irma tour of the devastation Irma wrought.
Al Lawson: ‘Let’s Feed America’
U.S. Rep. Lawson has focused on food scarcity issues in his first term in DC — and with good reason, as his Congressional District 5 has many so-called “food deserts.”
To that end, Lawson is using several creative approaches. The latest, reports WUSF: the launch of the “Let’s Feed America” campaign.
The goal: “To reduce hunger by expanding eligibility and making it easier for those in need to receive access to food.”
Lawson’s constituents rely heavily on the SNAP program; one in four have used it this year.
President Donald Trump wants to cut this program, an outcome Lawson called “totally unacceptable.”
$100 million for Florida Forever?
The Florida Forever program hasn’t been funded in the way people expected when they voted to appropriate Amendment 1 funds for it in 2014. The biggest amount earmarked for land acquisition thus far: $15.2M.
A new Senate bill from Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradleyseeks to change that, requiring an at least $100M allocation per year, for protection of Florida’s increasingly fragile wilderness.
“I am filing this bill because the Constitution demands, and the overwhelming majority of Floridians who voted for Amendment One in 2014 demand, that we protect the natural resources of our state,” Bradley said.
Bradley had already filed a measure for 2018 (SB 204) that would lead to the state spending at least $75 million a year on springs projects and $50 million annually on projects related to the restoration of the St. Johns River and its tributaries or the Keystone Heights Lake Region.
Last Session, Bradley pushed a project consistent with the aims of Florida Forever, securing recurring funds of $13.3 million earmarked for water replenishment in the St. Johns River and Keystone Heights Lake Region.
Tracie Davis moves to protect workers’ rights
As Hurricane Irma bore down on Florida, many residents faced evacuation orders — and some felt pressure from employers not to leave … or else they’d lose their jobs.
A new bill from Rep. Tracie Davis, a Jacksonville Democrat, would rectify that, banning such “employment discrimination.”
HB 225 would protect employees from “retaliatory personnel action” if they evacuated in compliance with an executive branch evacuation order applicable to their residence.
The employee would have 14 days to return to work — unless there is a lesser timespan mutually agreed upon by the employer and employee.
If fired, the employee could take civil action and remedies could include reinstatement of the employee to his or her previous position, compensation for lost wages, and attorney and court costs.
It does not apply to first responders, people working in nursing homes and those involved in the “restoration of vital services.”
If I do say so myself …
Councilman Garrett Dennis was featured in the Florida Times-Union last weekend, via a letter to the editor that extolled the budget delivery/performance of the City Council Finance Committee he chairs.
Dennis asserted that the committee allowed the budget to be “reviewed and vetted from a different perspective … ensuring that all communities are served,”
Worth noting: The Mayor advanced a massive (by Jacksonville standards) $131M capital improvement budget well before Finance even took a look at the paper. The philosophy was that the short-term budget relief created by immediate pension reform savings would help with priority projects.
Kids Hope Alliance on the rocks?
Jacksonville City Council committees this week were dominated by a dissection of Curry’s Kids Hope Allianceproposal, which seeks to replace Jacksonville’s children’s services organizations — the Jacksonville Children’s Commission and the Jax Journey — with a seven-person board housed in the executive branch.
Two of three Council committees passed the bill; deferring the measure, however, the Finance Committee … which looks poised to have a meeting Monday to answer questions from Chairman Garrett Dennis and Council President Anna Brosche.
Curry made a relatively rare trip to Council Chambers to sell the plan to one committee, and given that he’s messaged heavily on this one, he’s invested in the outcome.
Will that outcome be Tuesday … or again deferred?
JEA to PR
Some props for Jacksonville’s utility: they are sending crews to Puerto Rico to help the U.S. territory rebuild a power grid devastated by Hurricane Maria.
The 40 worker crews will, reports WJCT, work 30-day tours before rotating out. JEA has committed to three months of restoration work.
For JEA, which took a lot of criticism for messaging in the wake of Irma, news like this should help change the narrative … at least until the discussion of McElroy’s bonus comes up later this year.
Bill Bishop, Rory Diamond launch Council bids
The 2019 campaign season is starting in Jacksonville, as two candidates with name identification launched Council runs this week.
Former district Councilman and Mayoral candidate Bill Bishop filed Tuesday in at-large District 2, where he will oppose an ally of Mayor Curry: Ron Salem.
Salem has over $100,000 banked, and the Mayor’s political machine on his side. Meanwhile, Bishop built up a lot of goodwill among the Jacksonville smart set in 2015, as he ran an insurgent campaign before endorsing Alvin Brown for Mayor in the runoff.
The open question: will people support or remember Bishop in 2019, after a couple of years out of the relative spotlight of the Council dais? And will Bishop find donors outside of the Curry machine axis?
Out at the Beaches, Neptune Beach Councilor Rory Diamond — another candidate the Mayor’s political machine is excited about — launched his race to succeed fellow Republican Bill Gulliford, who is termed out and ready to move to Montana.
Diamond, an alumnus of the George W. Bush White House, will be the establishment favorite in that race. That said, Beach politics are essentially cannibalism at the ballot box, and almost certainly one or more of Diamond’s opponents will lay into him for using Neptune as a steppingstone to the big show.
Duval School Board OKs budget
The Duval County School Board approved its budget by a 5-1 vote this week … and three guesses as to who the “1” was.
Board member Scott Shine has been a lonely voice on the board, and budget night was no exception. He voted against the budget and called attention to a priority of former board member and current State Rep. Jason Fischer: an audit of $21M that ended up being spent last fiscal year from reserves.
The audit, said Board Chairwoman Paula Wright, was conducted and will be discussed at an upcoming workshop.
A question left unanswered by the Florida Times-Unionarticle: why the audit wasn’t merely distributed via email to board members, allowing for a more contemporaneous discussion — especially before the budget vote.
Meanwhile, for those who appreciate Shine’s willingness to go against consensus, they can take heart: Shine already has almost $30K banked for his 2018 re-election bid, against two opponents who — as of August numbers — had yet to report fundraising.
Armada falls to Miami, two points out of playoffs
The Jacksonville Armada FC fell 1-0 to the NASL-leading Miami FC on Sunday night in south Florida. Despite the loss, Jacksonville is two points out of a playoff spot. The Armada collected just one point from three games this past week — a busy schedule thanks to making up matches from Hurricane Irma.
“I thought the players played very well today. I honestly think in all three games this week we have been the better team,” head coach Mark Lowry said.
“We are obviously very disappointed not to collect more points, but the performances lately show that this club is moving in the right direction and has a very bright future ahead.”
The loss to Miami at Riccardo Silva Stadium on the campus of Florida International University with Jacksonville getting their first look at the goal. Tony Taylor found an early opportunity in the second minute of play and fired a shot, but it was a little too high.
Miami then found their first opportunity in the 11th minute with a free kick by former Armada player, Richie Ryan. It found its way through the defenders to bounce off the woodwork straight into the hands of goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell.
It did not take long for Miami to try again, though, and put itself on the scoreboard. Jaime Chávez tapped a ball toward Stéfano Pinho, who was able to head it on the frame and into the back of the net.
Patterson-Sewell had great saves later in the first half to keep Miami from extending their lead. Kwadwo Poku sent a laser from outside the box, and Patterson-Sewell knocked it away. He was there again to save the rebound shot by Dylan Mares, but the play by Mares was called offsides.
Taylor found another opportunity in the 44th minute for the Armada. He connected with a ball from Ciarán Kilduff and blasted a shot from outside the 18-yard box, but Daniel Vega saved it in the middle of the goal.
Taylor’s effort could not get Jacksonville on the board, and the teams left the field for halftime with Miami leading 1-0.
Mares was first with an effort for Miami in the second half. He broke away from the pack in the midfield in the 53rd minute and took a shot on goal, but Patterson-Sewell was again there to knock it away.
Jacksonville had a sequence in the 64th minute to almost record a goal. Taylor and Jack Blake connected on the right wing before finding Aaron Pitchkolan and Kalen Ryden in front of the goal. Ryden played the ball to Jemal Johnson who powered it toward the net. Kilduff had the last tap to try to tuck it away, but Vega made a diving save to knock it out of play.
Zach Steinberger then tried his chance at the goal in the 81st minute. After receiving the ball from Ryden, he fired his shot toward the net, but Vega saved it.
Miami had a few late chances to double the lead. Chavez found some space to run down the field ahead of Ryden to force Patterson-Sewell to get ready for a one-on-one, but his subsequent chip at the goal went wide.
The match ended 1-0 and Miami took the three points.
“The three games in seven days has stretched the roster to its limits,” said Lowry. “At this stage of the season, with a very small roster, it has been a physically challenging week. But rest assured, we will be ready for Edmonton on Friday.”
Jacksonville continues its season with a matchup against FC Edmonton in Alberta. Kickoff is Friday at 9 p.m. ET. The match will be broadcast locally on CW17.
A Broward County nursing home has expanded a lawsuit challenging moves by Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration that effectively shut down the facility after residents died following Hurricane Irma.
The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills filed a lawsuit last month in Leon County circuit court challenging Sept. 13 and Sept. 14 state orders that placed a moratorium on patient admissions and suspended the facility from the Medicaid program. It filed an amended complaint this week that challenged a Sept. 20 emergency order that suspended the facility’s license.
The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills filed the lawsuit Sept. 19 and followed with the amended complaint Tuesday, contending that the state did not have adequate grounds to prevent the facility from operating. The lawsuit seeks an injunction against the state.
“These actions by AHCA do not meet the essential requirements of law for entry of immediate emergency orders by a state agency because the administrative orders are completely devoid of factual allegations, and as stated, lack the required specificity and particularity, as to any improper conduct or wrongdoing on the part of Hollywood Hills,” the amended complaint said.
But in the emergency order suspending the license, the state agency said nursing home officials failed to properly evacuate residents when conditions became unsafe during the three days without air conditioning.
“The respondent’s (nursing home’s) deficient conduct is widespread and places all future residents at immediate threat to their health, safety and welfare,” the order said. “The respondent has demonstrated that its physical plant and its management cannot provide an environment where residents can be provided care and services in a safe and sanitary manner.”
Circuit Judge James Shelfer has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 27. Meanwhile Thursday, Scott released a statement calling on the state Constitution Revision Commission to consider proposals that could help protect residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. The commission will put proposed constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
After spending much of the past month focused on Hurricane Irma, Gov. Rick Scott will shift Thursday to the one region of Florida that was largely unscathed from that mammoth storm: The Panhandle.
Scott will appear Thursday at emergency-management facilities in Escambia and Bay counties, as a newly formed tropical depression could turn into a hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico and threaten Northwest Florida.
The storm, still dubbed Wednesday as Tropical Depression 16, could hit the Gulf Coast as a hurricane Sunday, though the exact path remains unclear, according to a National Hurricane Center forecast.
Scott is scheduled to appear at 9 a.m. Thursday at Escambia County Emergency Management and at 11:15 a.m. at the Bay County Emergency Operations Center, according to his office.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
In the wake of Hurricane Irma’s epic flooding last month, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam sounded a dire warning about Florida’s citrus crop.
In Southwest Florida, 80 percent of an already diminished crop was lost, posing an “existential” threat to the sector, Putnam told WUSF last month.
Gov. Scott talked to Putnam directly before a Jacksonville media availability Wednesday, and we asked the governor about the state of Florida citrus — and agriculture more generally — weeks after Irma.
“I’ve talked to people in our citrus industry and they’ve believe they’ve lost their entire year of crops,” Scott said, noting that tree damage is also an issue.
Of course, these impacts are not unique to citrus.
“What the commissioner cares about rightfully is what happened to all of our crops,” Scott said, noting that Florida provides “a lot of the winter crop for the country.”
Scott asked for an emergency declaration from the federal Department of Commerce to “help our ag industry.”
“I’m going to work with the commissioner to make sure that, to the extent that federal resources are available, they come to our state, we’re going to do everything we can to help them come back.”
Scott noted that tourism, fishing, and other sectors were “dramatically impacted” by Irma.
“I’m going to do everything I can to work with the Commissioner of Agriculture, to work with the federal government, to take care of every industry we can,” Scott said.
As the Associated Press reported Wednesday, Irma inflicted more than $2.5 billion in damage to Florida’s agricultural community — with $760 million in damages to oranges alone.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been a valuable resource for the Trump Administration as they have grappled with the devastation in Puerto Rico.
On Friday, for example, Scott talked to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence about what he saw when he went last week — a prelude to President Trump’s own visit.
Yet Gov. Scott’s commitment to the suffering people of the commonwealth is not complete. In fact, it’s just getting started. He’s talking to FEMA Administrator Brock Long “almost every day.”
But words and high-level conversations are not enough.
To that end, a visit to Jacksonville Wednesday afternoon — where Scott surveyed a shipment of goods to the island, and discussed the recovery effort, one that Florida — especially Jacksonville — is playing a unique role in.
Gov. Scott has been the point man for administration efforts, and Jacksonville — whose port handles most of the goods going to the commonwealth — is uniquely positioned as a beachhead for the recovery.
Leaving JAXPORT on Wednesday: a warehouse full of water from FEMA and JEA equipment, which will be there to greet restoration workers as they push to help restore the island’s devastated power grid.
“95 percent of people are out of power,” Scott said. “Less than a third have cell service. It’s pretty devastating.”
Scott described the destruction on the island poignantly by way of recapping his visit last week, saying that a historically “lush … green environment” was left “without a tree standing.”
Scott noted that he told Puerto Rico’s Governor that “whatever you need, we’ll be there for you.”
To that end, Florida is making materiel contributions to the effort: 50 highway patrol officers to help with law enforcement; an FDLE incident management team; a state of emergency in Florida to work with Puerto Ricans who are coming to Florida, including those who are coming to two disaster relief centers in Miami and another at the Orlando airport.
“We’re going to do everything we can to take care of anybody who’s coming here, either permanently or for a short period of time,” Scott said.
“Your heart goes out to them … you just feel so sorry for them. But Florida’s a state where we take care of people, we work well together,” Scott added.
Despite a direct question and a direct follow-up during the gaggle, Gov. Scott was reluctant to directly address President Trump’s visit to Puerto Rico, which included the President tossing paper towels into a crowd of Puerto Ricans and reminding locals that Hurricane Maria is going to impact the federal budget.
Scott did paint a picture of a robust federal response, however, saying that when he was there Thursday, he saw FEMA and the National Guard in action, as he met with Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello and his team.
“Everybody is working really hard,” Scott said, noting the logistical challenges that are unique to Puerto Rico, such as being on a mountainous island with many washed out roads and a “staggering” amount of debris — a condition that precludes crews arriving out of state to help with power restoration, a job in Florida that saw 60,000 workers after Hurricane Irma.
“It’s a herculean effort to get the power back on there,” Scott added.
Scott noted that, when he was at the White House Friday, the President wanted to make sure the commonwealth had the resources it needs.
“He was asking me questions about what I saw when I was there,” Scott said.