With time running out to comply with what could be a $240 million generator mandate handed down by Gov. Rick Scott, nursing-home administrators and long-term care lobbyists left a Tuesday meeting without an indication of what, if anything the state will do to help offset the costs.
Members of a nursing-home payment workgroup may have to wait until November before state Medicaid officials discuss generators and whether the facilities can be reimbursed under an existing cost-based reimbursement system that has been in effect for more than 20 years or through a prospective payment system that starts in October 2018. Under a prospective payment system, facilities receive prepaid fixed amounts.
Scott this month directed the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Elder Affairs to issue emergency rules requiring every nursing home and assisted living facility to have a generator that can power air conditioning for 96 hours. He made the move after the deaths of residents of a Broward County nursing home, where Hurricane Irma knocked out the air-conditioning system.
Florida Health Care Association chief lobbyist Bob Azstalos asked Medicaid staff during Tuesday’s meeting to provide the workgroup members with background information that shows how generators would be reimbursed under the existing cost-based system compared to under the prospective payment system, which was passed by the Legislature during the 2017 session.
“I would kind of like some background understanding,” Azstalos told Tom Wallace, the Agency for Health Care Administration’s interim assistant deputy secretary for Medicaid finance and analytics.
Wallace made no promises but said Medicaid officials would “talk internally” and see what could be done.
In opening remarks, Medicaid Director Beth Kidder told members of the Nursing Home Prospective Payment Working Group that while generators may be on their minds, they need to focus on a legislative requirement to submit a report to the governor and legislative leaders with recommendations about how to best transition to the new payment system.
“I know there is a lot of post-mortem going on and there’s issues with generators that are focusing a lot of your time, a lot of your thoughts; so it’s kind of hard to drag your attention back to something that seems like it was years ago, but I do appreciate you all being here so soon after getting through this event,” she said.
Lorne Simmons, with the accounting and consulting firm Moore Stephens Lovelace PA, told industry officials last week that it would cost an estimated $350,000 for a 120-bed nursing home to add a generator. In all, he estimated a tab of $240 million.
The mandate came in the aftermath of the deaths of eight residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County. Three more seniors who had been residents of the facility died last week.
The nursing home lost its air conditioning system Sept. 10 when Hurricane Irma knocked out a transformer. The air conditioning had not been restored three days later when the eight deaths occurred and the rest of the facility’s residents were evacuated.
Under the emergency rules ordered by Scott, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities have 45 days to submit plans that would include acquiring generators to ensure temperatures could be maintained at 80 degrees or cooler for 96 hours after losing electricity. Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities would have to carry out the plans within 60 days.
Under state law, emergency rules are designed to be in effect for only 90 days. But lawmakers are already preparing to consider the generator issue during the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts in January.
The prospective payment workgroup was established after a bitter intra-industry legislative fight over how Medicaid reimburses nursing home providers. The Florida Health Care Association pressed hard for adoption of a prospective payment system and an underlying formula used to help determine how the money is spent and had the support of the Florida Senate.
LeadingAge Florida, which represents smaller nursing homes and senior retirement facilities, tried to beat back the move, arguing that the underlying formula shifted money from high-quality nursing homes and directed it to lower quality nursing homes. Ultimately the Legislature agreed to approve the prospective payment system but delayed implementation for a year.
The Legislature established a workgroup and directed it to review the formula and to recommend any adjustments, if necessary, to the agency, the governor, the Senate president and the House speaker by Dec. 1.
The workgroup was supposed to meet earlier this month, but the Agency for Health Care Administration had to reschedule the meeting because of Hurricane Irma.
In all, it will meet three times before finalizing a report. The next scheduled meeting is Oct. 19 in Tallahassee.
Premiums for health care plans sold on the Affordable Care Act’s federal exchange and outside the exchange will rise an average of 45 percent in Florida this year, according to state officials. However that doesn’t mean consumers will end up spending more money. In fact, they could end up seeing slight decreases.
Florida’s Office of Insurance Regulation released the figures Tuesday for the six health insurers who will sell “Obamacare” plans on the federal marketplace. The news comes as major insurers around the country have pulled out of the market amid dismal profits and growing uncertainty under President Donald Trump‘s administration.
But Florida Blue is offering plans in all 67 counties and is the sole provider in several mostly rural counties, largely in the Panhandle and along the Florida-Georgia border. In highly populated counties like Miami-Dade, Broward and Orange, residents will have several plans to choose from.
All six insurers requested large double-digit rate hikes. The state has the power to negotiate those rates down to a lower price. The lowest increase went to Florida Health Care Plan Inc. with 26.5 percent, and the highest — 71 percent — went to Molina Healthcare of Florida, Inc., according to data from state insurance officials.
Rates can be tricky to understand without context. Last year, for example, the average monthly premium with Florida Blue was $525. This year it jumps to $725. But those figures don’t include subsidies given by the federal government to help consumers pay for their plans. When premiums increase, the subsidies also increase.
The plans fall into four categories: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. Consumers who choose bronze plans pay the lowest monthly premiums, but the most for care. Those with platinum plans have the highest monthly premiums, but the lowest cost of care.
“Most consumers with the silver plans will not see an out-of-pocket change, as the federal premium subsidy will also increase to absorb this extra cost,” state insurance officials said in a press release.
According to their data, a family of four earning $53,000, as well as an individual earning $27,000, may see a slight decrease in their out-of-pocket health insurance premium in 2018.
The Sunshine State has led the country in enrollment on the Affordable Care Act exchange with nearly 1.7 million consumers. About 75 percent of those consumers received funds to help pay for their insurance, according to the federal government.
On Twitter and in interviews, Trump has threatened to give Obamacare a nudge by cutting off payments to precipitate a crisis that would force Congress to act. The loss would have a huge effect on insurers who would have to absorb the hit. Earlier this year, Florida Blue warned that its rates would increase by an additional 20 percent on average across the state without the cost-sharing reductions.
Some experts say the Trump administration is responsible for a large share of the rate hikes.
This November marks the first time that enrollment in President Barack Obama’s signature law will begin under Trump, who campaigned on abolishing the law and has repeatedly said it’s in a death spiral. He and congressional Republicans have been unable to deliver on their promise to “repeal and replace” the 2010 health care law.
But Trump recently cut funding for navigators who counsel people about various plans and help them enroll, slashing the navigator budget 40 percent from $62.5 million for 2017, to $36.8 million for next year. Trump is also reducing the funds that pay for advertising during open enrollment. Advertising will be cut from $100 million spent on 2017 sign-ups to $10 million, said Health and Human Services officials.
Because of these cuts in advertising and enrollment assistance, those who end up signing up for coverage are more likely to be people who desperately need the insurance, said John Holahan, an economist with the Urban Institute.
“This will drive up the risk pool, so premiums will go up,” Holahan said.
Meanwhile, under the administration of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, Florida insurance officials are reminding consumers who don’t qualify for funding assistance that they can purchase insurance outside the federal exchange. But those premiums also increased in the market by an average of 18 percent.
In 2013, an unsubsidized plan comparable to an existing silver plan would cost a family of four an average of $7,200, according to the state. In 2018, the average unsubsidized cost for the same family totals $17,000.
The commission’s Rules and Administration Committee voted unanimously to recommend an extension to Oct. 6 of the filing deadline for proposed amendments from the public, replacing a prior recommendation of a Sept. 22 deadline.
“As we all know so much of the state was impacted by Hurricane Irma, many people are still focusing their efforts on recovery from the storm, just getting their lives back to normal. I think it’s appropriate that we give Floridians more time to participate in the process,” said Tim Cerio, chairman of the rules panel.
The committee also recommended extending the deadline to Oct. 31 for proposed amendments filed by the 37 members of the Constitution Revision Commission, replacing a prior deadline of Oct. 24.
The deadline extensions will have to be approved by the full commission, which meets next Monday in Tallahassee.
The commission meets every 20 years and has the unique ability to place constitutional amendments directly on the 2018 ballot. Thus far, it has received more than 1,400 constitutional proposals from the public, although due to duplication that represents roughly 500 distinct proposals, officials said.
Commission members have filed seven proposals.
Next Monday, the full commission will begin its review of the public proposals. For a proposed amendment to advance, it must be nominated by a member and then receive support from at least 10 commission members.
Public proposals that gain the initial support of the commission will then be referred to one or more of the 10 committees that have specific jurisdictions, including education, taxes, the judiciary and elections.
Proposals that win majority votes in the committees will return to the full commission, where at least 22 members must vote in support to place a measure on the 2018 general election ballot.
Five of the committees will meet this week and hear testimony from experts in their focus areas, starting Tuesday with a presentation from Pete Antonacci, Gov. Rick Scott‘s former general counsel who now leads Enterprise Florida. Antonacci will talk to the Constitution Revision Commission’s Executive Committee on the governor’s constitutional authority.
On Monday, a group of Democratic-leaning organizations called for more public hearings once the commission sorts through the more than 1,400 public proposals and whatever amendments are advanced by commission members.
The commission held a round of public hearings earlier this year to hear testimony from Floridians on what changes they would like to see in the state Constitution.
“A second round of hearings after many issues are eliminated will allow citizens the opportunity to make focused and in-depth public comment about issues that have been determined to have a real chance of making it to the ballot,” the letter said. “And commissioners will have the benefit of that comment before they take their final vote.”
Additionally, the coalition asked the commission to hold itself to a strict interpretation of Florida’s open-government laws, including prohibiting private communication between two commissioners when discussing proposals.
Cerio said the commission is using the same open-government rules that were adopted by the last Constitution Revision Commission, which met in 1997 and 1998.
Any proposals placed on the 2018 ballot must be approved by at least 60 percent of the voters to pass.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
Florida Democrats are facing a test to see whether anti-President Donald Trump politics will give them a boost ahead of a critical election year and perhaps signal a turnaround after two decades of Republican dominance in the Legislature.
They’ve made Trump a focal point in a special election set for Tuesday to replace a Miami-area Republican state senator who resigned after using racial slurs in front of black colleagues. The Republican in the race, state Rep. Jose Felix “Pepi” Diaz, was a contestant on Trump’s reality show “The Apprentice,” helping to make that connection easier.
“Trump’s apprentice just got the GOP nomination,” said a Democratic fundraising email when Diaz won the primary in July. “Contribute now to fire Trump’s apprentice.”
If Democrat Annette Taddeo wins with less money against the stronger organization of the Republican Party, it could be a sign of better times for Democrats. It would also test an anti-Trump strategy ahead of a 2018 election when the governor’s seat and all three Cabinet positions are open and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is up for re-election.
“It’s an interesting test. Does the Trump thing translate down the ballot in a nontypical election?” said Democratic political strategist Steve Schale. “If Democrats talk about getting back to a majority, you have to win races like this at some point.”
On paper, the district southwest of Miami leans Democratic. Democrat Hillary Clinton beat Trump last year, but Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio also carried the district.
“I’m sure the Democrats are going to try to make it a referendum on Trump, but they’re going to have to spend a lot of money to do it,” said David Johnson, a Republican political consultant. “If Pepi wins, it will be credited largely to superior resources and organization.”
Taddeo, 50, has a television ad that begins with her clicking off a television showing a clip of Trump “attacking” professional wrestling icon Vince McMahon. And in a speech to supporters two months ago, she said, “We have a president that we need to stand up [to] and not stand on the sidelines. We need to fight him every step of the way.”
She has run for Congress twice, losing both times. She was also Democratic gubernatorial nominee Charlie Crist‘s running mate in 2014 in a race barely lost to Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
She said Diaz, 37, wasn’t shy about using his ties to Trump during the primary.
“When the president was insulting to Hispanics, instead of coming out and defending us, Representative Diaz actually joined his national Hispanic advisory council,” she said.
Diaz dismissed the attacks from Taddeo and Democrats over Trump and said that being on “The Apprentice” in 2006 was a life-changing experience — even if he was one of the first contestants to get fired.
“Having a camera on 24 hours a day changed me. It made me really think about just how important it is to make the right the decision at all times,” he said.
And while he said the race isn’t about Trump, some voters still see it that way.
“I support Diaz because I support President Trump,” said Republican Raul Musibay, 75.
Abel Lopez, a 65-year-old Democrat, agreed that the Trump factor was key.
“Anything I can do to help those against Trump,” Lopez said, “I will do it.”
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.
Florida Keys tourism officials said Monday they will meet Gov. Rick Scott‘s Oct. 1 deadline to reopen to visitors after Hurricane Irma pounded Monroe County.
The announcement, which came shortly before the governor was scheduled to meet with Monroe County officials in Marathon, followed the first cruise ship docking Sunday in the Port of Key West.
However, as recovery efforts continue in parts of Marathon and the Lower Keys, not everything is expected to be open when tourists can again travel the 42 bridges of U.S. 1 through the Keys.
“We know we have a long way to go before the Keys fully recover,” Monroe County Mayor George Neugent said in a statement posted online. “But because tourism is our top economic engine and many of our residents’ livelihoods depend on it, we also know that we need to begin asking visitors to return.”
Tourism accounts for more than 50 percent of the jobs in Monroe County and 60 percent of the money spent in the Keys, totaling about $120 million a year in sales taxes for the state, according to the county’s Tourist Development Council.
Last Thursday, tourism officials appeared less optimistic about meeting Scott’s deadline, suggesting the reopening may not occur until at least Oct. 20, with the start of the annual Fantasy Fest.
Motorists making the drive are advised to proceed with extra care in the Lower Keys and Marathon to “avoid hindering restoration activities” and because of “significant debris piles.”
“While Key Largo and Key West were least impacted by the Category 4 storm, not all lodging, including RV resorts and other tourism facilities throughout the Keys, are operating on a normal basis,” a release from the Keys tourism council said. “Potential visitors should call ahead to ensure hotels and their favorite attractions are open. Some hotels are accommodating displaced residents under a Federal Emergency Management Agency program.”
The announcement also came as Scott directed 400 members of the Florida National Guard to help with debris removal in Monroe County. The state and local governments have struggled with contractors and subcontractors on debris removal.
Hurricane Irma made initial landfall Sept. 10 at Cudjoe Key, less than 30 miles northeast of Key West. It then made a second landfall in Collier County before traveling up the peninsula.
“If we have another hurricane, if all that debris is out there, that’s going to be dangerous,” Scott said after Monday’s meeting. “That’s going to be dangerous for people, but it’s also going to be dangerous for our buildings and especially for our power systems. And we’re a tourist state. One of every six jobs in the state is tied to tourism, so we have to get the debris up.”
The meeting focused on debris removal, housing options available through FEMA and state displaced worker programs.
Cellular service is said to be working well throughout the Keys. But water and electricity were still being restored Monday to areas from Key Largo through Marathon, and cable television and internet services lag throughout the Keys.
Nighttime curfews remain in place from Islamorada to Marathon and for the Big Pine Key area to just north of Shark Key.
Most state parks in Monroe County remained closed Monday. The Florida Park Service said San Pedro Underwater Archaeological Preserve State Park in Islamorada and the Florida Keys Overseas Heritage Trail are open for day use.
Dry Tortugas National Park, a cluster of seven islands almost 70 miles west of Key West, reopened Monday. However, ferry operation from Key West isn’t expected to be available until Oct. 28.
The tourism announcement noted that a number of events have been postponed or canceled. But Key Largo’s Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, Marathon’s Stone Crab Eating Contest and Key West’s Fantasy Fest, all slated for mid- to late-October, will take place as planned.
The state’s tourism-marketing agency, Visit Florida, which latched onto Scott’s Oct. 1 goal, has rolled out a $4 million to $5 million post-hurricane marketing plan that will include a component focused on the Keys “once our partners there have indicated they are ready to welcome visitors back.”
“I think that’s both to help the Keys and the rest of the state as well,” Scott said Monday of the marketing plan.
The state, which before Irma was on pace to top last year’s 113 million visitors, has not calculated the hurricane’s potential economic impact on the tourism industry.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
Gov. Rick Scott activated 400 members of the Florida National Guard Monday to help Key West residents remove debris and clean out flood damage.
Scott said the activation will help “families get into their homes faster so they can make needed repairs and get back to their normal lives.”
“We know the Florida Keys were hit especially hard by Hurricane Irma this month, and have been working nonstop to get the Florida Keys back open,” Scott said in the statement.
The activation came the same day as Rep. Robert Asencio and State Senators Victor Torres, Jr. and Jose Javier Rodriguez sent a letter to the governor requesting he authorize the Florida National Guard to deliver food, medicine, gas and water to help Americans living on Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Puerto Rico “is currently without any functioning public utility services, has virtually no communications network and limited available resources are quickly diminishing,” the congressmen’s letter said. “Additionally, the U.S. Virgin Islands received destructive impacts from by both Hurricanes Irma and Maria.”
The congressmen said they expect many residents of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands to seek shelter with family and friends living in the Florida.
“We desire to make appropriate preparations in anticipation of the additional requirements to Florida’s public health services and education sectors, rising demands for both temporary and permanent housing and transitional services for professional and skilled workers to achieve employment resulting from this increased Puerto Rican migration,” according to the letter.
Scott has contacted Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, telling him Florida stands ready to offer assistance.
“We are coordinating closely with our federal and state partners and when a request is made to Florida through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, we will aggressively work to help our friends in Puerto Rico,” said Kerri Wyland, a spokesperson for the governor. “All state resources are that are not responding to Hurricane Irma recovery are on standby. Florida knows firsthand how important it is to share resources with our neighbors during these disasters and we will provide whatever we can to help families in Puerto Rico rebuild.”
More than $45 million in revenue is believed to have been lost when the state suspended highway toll collections to help speed evacuations and relief efforts for Hurricane Irma, Florida’s Turnpike system estimates.
However, the estimated $3 million-a-day impact is not expected to hinder operations of the system or ongoing work programs, “as impacts such as toll suspensions due to a hurricane are taken into consideration during the annual budgeting process,” turnpike spokesman Chad Huff said in an email Friday.
Funding 404 full-time positions, the turnpike system is budgeted at $1.57 billion for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.
Tolls were lifted by Gov. Rick Scott on Sept. 5 in advance of Hurricane Irma’s trek across Florida. Toll collections resumed at 12:01 a.m. Thursday across the state, though they remained suspended on the Homestead Extension of Florida’s Turnpike south of State Road 874 in southern Miami-Dade County, as Monroe County recovery efforts continue.
Irma made initial landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe County and a second landfall in Collier County before traveling north and exiting the state Sept. 11.
As Irma approached Florida, an estimated 6.3 million people were directed through mandatory or voluntary evacuations to find shelter inland or further away.
The state has not estimated how many people took to the road in advance of the storm.
The Florida Department of Transportation also suspended construction, clearing work zones to reduce traffic impacts for evacuees.
The turnpike system backed the governor’s toll suspension.
“Governor Scott’s top priority was to keep people safe as our state faced the threat of Hurricane Irma and to ensure Floridians had no reason to not evacuate if they were in evacuation zones,” Huff wrote. “Suspending tolls was critical to helping Floridians travel safely and quickly during the largest ever evacuation in U.S. history.”
– Scott continued to focus on debris removal, which he earlier blamed for slowing efforts to restore power lost from storm and causing public health issues.
Scott on Thursday invited debris removal companies to contact the Florida Department of Transportation – if willing to work “at a fair price” – as he’s received complaints from local governments about debris-removal contractors not abiding by pre-storm contracts.
– Scott expanded license-free freshwater and saltwater fishing through June 30, 2018, for utility workers. The same offer was provided for Florida law-enforcement officers and first responders on Thursday. The offer includes free day passes to Florida state parks through October 2018.
Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.
After 11 nursing home residents died in the sweltering heat of hurricane-induced power outages, Florida’s nursing home industry is now on a collision course with Gov. Rick Scott.
Days after Hurricane Irma ravaged the state, Scott used his emergency powers to put in place new rules that require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators capable of providing backup power for four days. The Republican governor, who normally brags about eliminating regulations on businesses, gave nursing homes 60 days to comply.
Nursing home officials say they can’t.
They say it’s not just the multimillion-dollar price-tag that will come with acquiring large generators for hundreds, maybe thousands, of homes. During a daylong summit by the industry Friday, engineers and contractors and others who operate nursing homes said it will be practically impossible to purchase, install and get permits to put generators and supplies of fuel in place by the November deadline.
“Compliance with the rule is impossible and time is running out,” said Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, an association that represents both nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
So far, the Scott administration isn’t backing down.
Justin Senior, the state’s top health care regulator, said the state will “aggressively” enforce the mandate, which calls for fines for those homes that fail to comply.
Senior showed up at the nursing home industry summit to explain the logic behind the rule. He said that Irma’s unpredictable path showed that is no longer acceptable for nursing homes to merely say they plan to evacuate patients when a storm is looming.
“Evacuation plans generally fell through,” said Senior, the secretary for the Agency for Health Care Administration. “There was no place to run; there was no place to hide.”
Police in Hollywood are currently investigating why the 11 patients died after Irma knocked out air-conditioning at a nursing home there, even though just across the street was a fully functioning and cooled hospital. The latest death reported is that of 94-year-old Alice Thomas, who died Thursday, and police said they are treating that as part of their criminal investigation of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and its employees.
Eight patients died on Sept. 13, three days after Irma knocked out the home’s air conditioning. Three have died this week. Overall, 145 patients were taken from the home. The dead have ranged from 78 to 99 years old. No one has been charged.
The state has suspended the home’s license. The home has filed a lawsuit trying to overturn the state’s actions.
Senior, who called the deaths “painful” and “haunting,” said he was aware of some of the industry’s complaints, but he had a strong warning:
“We think very strongly of the cost of not complying with this rule is greater than the cost of compliance,” Senior said.
Senior did tell the nursing homes that the generators do not have to be large enough to cool their entire building. Instead, he said, they need to be large enough to keep patients safe in a cooled environment.
The tough stance that the Scott administration is taking with the nursing home industry runs counter to the governor’s usual attitude toward regulation, especially in the health care field. Scott, a multimillionaire who never ran for office before getting elected in 2010, once ran the nation’s largest chain of hospitals before he was forced out of his job as the head of Columbia/HCA.
The industry could challenge Scott’s decision to put the emergency rule in place since it is not currently a requirement under state law. Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for one nursing home trade group, the Florida Health Care Association, said the group was “exploring all of its options.”
Bahmer called a possible legal challenge “absolutely the last consideration.”
Republished with permission of The Associated Press.
After a two-week sabbatical, Jacksonville Bold returns this week — with much of the content dealing with a city battling back from well-documented storm impacts (massive flooding in areas, power outages, et al.)
And, like Bold, the city is coming back.
Before the Jaguars kicked off Sunday, power was substantially restored (though it seemed to have come at the expense of efficiency on offense). Debris is piled by curbs, waiting for pickup. Life is moving on — though some of those who suffered most grievously during the storm are still waiting for a helping hand from government.
The question going forward, into next Tuesday’s budget vote and beyond: How will the city shoulder a second straight year of significant storm-related costs?
The capital improvement program was already big-spending and ambitious ($131M). Other adds were equally bold: a proposal for 100 new cops, and a proposal to spend $8M for capital improvements at the private HBCU, Edward Waters College.
As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”
But that quote was never intended to apply to municipal budgets; however, Jacksonville City Council members will be compelled to balance what happened this month with long-range planning made before Irma was even conceived.
Paul Ryan, Florida delegation talk Irma
House Speaker Paul Ryan and Appropriations Chair Rodney Freylinghausen aren’t usually in Bold, but they are this week — as they visited Jacksonville as part of a three-stop tour with the Florida Delegation to discuss Irma relief.
The national figures didn’t talk to the local press (small market blues?), but Florida U.S. Reps, such as Ron DeSantis, had a consistent message: Northeast Florida cities will get what’s coming to them from FEMA.
“One of the things we’ve been impressing on the federal government is these communities are having to spend a lot of resources on things like debris removal. They need to have that money reimbursed in a timely fashion,” DeSantis said.
“You still have a lot of localities that are waiting to be reimbursed for Matthew,” DeSantis added. “That’s a bureaucratic process that’s got to be improved. We’ve been talking to and engaging FEMA about that.”
Rep. John Rutherford also noted that funds are in fact available … good news for budget hawks in City Hall.
Al Lawson fights for Jax FEMA funds
Last week saw politicians coming through Jacksonville for photo ops and to survey the damage. Perhaps the most unheralded visit was that of Rep. Lawson, who dropped into City Hall last week and talked to the Mayor about getting Jacksonville money … from Hurricane Matthew.
“I talked to the Mayor,” Lawson said, “and what I told him is that I know there’s some $26 million that the city hasn’t gotten from FEMA for the last hurricane, Matthew. That’s one of the things that we’re working on to try to make sure they get those funds, because of the devastation in this area.”
“Our goal is to get the resources down here quickly as possible,” Lawson said.
Regarding backlogs with FEMA payouts, which can take years, Lawson noted that “this hurricane affected the whole state, and one of the things we need to do on the federal level is get that money released earlier.”
Lawson has worked, since beating Corrine Brown in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, to build up local bona fides and ward off a potential local challenge. As of the end of June, the first-term Democrat had nearly $150,000 cash on hand for his next campaign.
Lawson promised us that Speaker Ryan would come to visit … and he was as good as his word, as you read above.
Rutledge Pearson Post Office?
Pushing for federal funds is one way Lawson is localizing his approach; pushing to name a local post office after one of the most influential civil rights leaders in regional history is another.
Sunshine State Newsreports that Lawson seeks to rename the Kings Road post office after Rutledge Pearson; this play is backed by most of the Florida Congressional Delegation, with Rep. Ted Yoho the sole Northeast Florida exception.
“Rutledge Pearson, a Jacksonville native, was an American history teacher, civil rights leader and distinguished baseball player,” Lawson said last week. “His legacy in Jacksonville, especially in the fight for civil rights, is long-lasting and this is a fitting way to honor his contributions to our community.”
Pearson was a former head of the state NAACP and instrumental in Jacksonville’s struggle toward integration. He died 50 years ago in a car accident in Tennessee.
Hold my mule
The reviews are coming in for Shirley Caesar’s fundraising gig for Corrine Brown — and the Florida Star, closely aligned with Brown throughout her career, gave Caesar high marks this month.
“Selling out 2,000 seats at Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church. Before Shirley Caesar anointed the attendees with her presence. Guest had the pleasure of enjoying the small business Pop-up shop and praising with live entertainment from Phillip Mercer, Abyssinia Choir, Robert Hayes (Classical Mime), and Najee Ward,” the Star reports.
Nothing like the classical mime to warm up the crowd.
Brown faces sentencingin mid-November. One hopes the anointing doesn’t have a shelf life.
Rick Scott: FEMA could offer ‘advance payments’
More good news and clarity on the reimbursement front.
Florida Gov. Scott is also on board — and may be able to help expedite requests.
“I talked to the Administrator of FEMA about this last week,” Scott said. “They can do advance payments.”
Scott noted caveats, such as “still having to go through the process,” and that — if the reimbursement is not approved — cities have to pay the feds back.
“What I’ve told everybody is get it to our office. I’ll get it to FEMA,” Scott added, “and what they’ve told me was they’d work with cities or counties to [make] advance payments.”
Jacksonville, at last count, has somewhere around $150M between operating and emergency reserve accounts — a good chunk of change in a $1.27B general fund budget, but one with caveats — including statutory minimum levels that must be maintained.
Jacksonville is still awaiting reimbursements from the federal government — 75 percent of an approximate $50 million in storm-related damage. Application technicalities, such as Jacksonville’s local commitments to small and emerging businesses and locational criteria for vendors, apparently are not something the federal government honors.
Duval delegation talks Irma aftermath
“Unprecedented devastation” brought by Hurricane Irma occasioned a special press availability of the Duval Delegation late last week.
Most everyone on hand will go to bat for the district; however, details — beyond a Rep. Jay Fant bill to enhance criminal penalties for looting during states of emergency — were scant.
Rep. Cord Byrd, who represents Duval and Nassau, has spoken with Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. John Rutherford and Speaker Richard Corcoran about pushing the ball forward.
And Rep. Jason Fischer noted that “we as a state should do everything we can to fill the gaps left by” federal and local governments.
We asked Rep. Fant about the Speaker’s dispensation toward Jacksonville pushing for resources, given the tensions regarding Fant’s positions on Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, incentive programs the Speaker and allied vigorously worked to scuttle.
“Legislators may disagree on legislation,” Fant said, but all are “still teammates,” especially in light of the “catastrophic” Irma.
Notable: the Florida Times-Union had two reporters on hand, but ultimately saw little of reportable value in the event.
Did prophets see Irma coming?
We’re not sure if the Duval Delegation agrees with Rep. Kim Daniels about whether prophets saw Irma coming as a manifestation of God’s will. We didn’t have the heart to ask them.
“Nothing happens except God reveal it to prophets first,” Daniels observed as the death-dealing superstorm enveloped the peninsula.
We asked Daniels about these comments. To sum, she stands by the claim.
“I wouldn’t post it on Facebook if I didn’t believe it,” Daniels said, feet away from where a massive relief fund was being rolled out for the storm she said prophets knew would happen.
Her musings are “for spiritually-minded people,” Daniels said, “and you can’t explain spiritual things to carnally-minded people … And I’m sure you won’t understand it.”
We asked Daniels why God would want Irma to hit Florida.
Her response: “You pray and ask God that.”
It was easy to lose track of Northeast Florida political fundraising during Irma’s Hell Week; however, we have you covered.
In fundraising for local 2019 races, Jacksonville City Council candidate Matt Carlucci again outclassed the field; of course, he will be taking a break the next couple of months, dealing with Irma claims in his capacity as a State Farm agent.
Though not a declared candidate yet for re-election, Sheriff Mike Williams’ committee is now over $100K cash-on-hand … with the bail bonds industry offering an assist.
In other committee news, Curry’s committee hauled in nearly a quarter-million dollars in August … and in the process, he paid back Jags’ owner Shad Khan for travel to three cities’ sports districts for eco dev ideas for the Shipyards.
And on the state level, committees for Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Paul Renner likewise had strong hauls. Attorney General candidate Fant struggled, while the man who hopes to replace him in HD 15 — lawyer Wyman Duggan — had a respectable first month of fundraising.
Irma may cost Jax more than Matthew did
Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa, was the first local official to give even a rough estimate of local budget impacts from Irma.
They won’t be pretty.
“We’re just beginning the recovery,” Mousa said, noting that damage could be “equal or a bit more than Hurricane Matthew.”
Matthew cost the city $50M in general fund costs, and the city is still out $27M of unreimbursed FEMA costs; Mayor Curry said earlier this summer that the city could handle a Matthew-sized hit to the general fund, though it is uncertain what choices a “bit more” costs would require.
Worth noting: the city estimated, in the wake of Matthew, costs could be up to $100M; that estimate turned out — luckily for the city, given FEMA’s slow reimbursement — to be high.
“We’re still trying to get our arms around infrastructure damage,” Mousa said.
Curry still committed to kids’ program reforms
Of late, Jacksonville’s City Council committees have deferred Curry’s “Kids Hope Alliance” proposal.
But the bill isn’t dead, the mayor says. Rather, it’s being tweaked.
Curry called the Kids Hope Alliance bill “real reform,” saying “I will see it through to the end.”
“I’m not going weak on this,” he added.
Regarding discussion among some legislators that significant changes are needed to the bill to make it palatable, Curry stood his ground, saying the aftermath of Hurricane Irma led to a temporary pause in the reform push.
“I met with experts,” Curry said, “tweaking it. But the delay right now is storm-related.”
“Once we get through this hurricane stuff,” he added, “you’ll see the final bill and a discussion in city council in the near term.”
We asked if the entire seven-person board would be comprised of Mayoral appointees, as was the case in the originally filed legislation.
“I don’t want to speak to the final product until we get there,” Curry said, “but I think you’ll see that it accomplishes the intent that I said needs to be accomplished.”
Jacksonville got national coverage last week for massive flooding in downtown and beyond; while that had the benefit of getting Curry and various local journos into the national spotlight, that came at the potential expense of Jacksonville’s reputation for resilience.
In the Jax Daily Record, veteran journalist Karen Mathisasserts that “efficient recovery” involves getting the business community back on its feet — and that it needs to happen soon … and be messaged.
“Companies that want to expand and create jobs want to know that when disaster strikes, they will be able to quickly resume business and continue their payrolls, which is what their employees want, too,” Mathis writes.
“While Florida, Jacksonville and other cities are moving to reconnect people with access to their daily routines, media headlines might not relay that message nationally,” Mathis adds.
The words “safe at home” had a new meaning in the wake of Hurricane Irma, as one Northwest Jacksonville apartment complex instituted a curfew.
Moncrief Road’s Washington Heights dropped a curfew over the weekend; the goal, “safety” in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Per Action News Jax, the curfew is somehow controversial with residents who had aversions to being locked in their houses past 8 p.m. every evening.
Washington Heights is one of a few Jacksonville complexes owned by Millennia Housing Management: the company took over the reins from troubled Global Ministries Foundation, which didn’t commit capital to physical improvements at complexes it owned around town (indeed, throughout the South).
In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, JEA faced opprobrium over sewage spills. Despite reinforcing its generator fleet, power failed at some locations in Hurricane Irma — and sludge seeped out onto Jacksonville streets.
First Coast News reports that “there were 57 known pollution incidents in Jacksonville during Hurricane Irma. More than 1.5 million gallons of sewage and wastewater was released out into the environment.”
FCN visited spills at a couple of locations, describing “a green, glistening stew of waste floating in the water of the creek and nearby roadside ditches” at one place near Fisher Creek on the Westside.
Jacksonville Councilman Bill Gulliford told us that sewage spills were one point of contention he had with the utility during this storm, in a wide-ranging interview that seemed to suggest JEA could use a different CEO.
When given a chance Monday to make critiques to JEA’s CEO at Council, Gulliford avoided this rhetoric; instead, he cast aspersions at an unnamed colleague, who allegedly gave a code for a Council-only conference call that wasn’t intended to be heard by media to a member of the press.
Meanwhile, Curry — when asked — sidestepped the question of whether JEA Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Paul McElroy deserves a bonus this year.
“Now is not the time” for such a discussion, he said.
Curry urges JEA to improve customer communications and to develop a plan to that end.
What Aaron Bean is up to next week
On Tuesday, Sept. 26, state Sen. Bean of Fernandina Beach will participate in the Leadership Nassau Youth Opening Day Lunch and speak with participants about the importance of leadership and public service. The event begins 11:30 a.m. at the FSCJ Nassau Center, 76346 William Burgess Boulevard in Yulee.
One Spark flickers out for this year
Hurricane Irma is to blame for One Spark being pushed back until next year, WJCTreports.
The festival will be held at EverBank Field in April.
“We have received dozens of requests from applicants who have been impacted for extensions and help,” said One Spark Ventures President Chris Carter.
“Right now, we want to be respectful and mindful of our community and the hardships they face by allowing people the time they need to focus on their homes and families first,” Carter added.
One Spark has been in a gradual process of being scaled back in recent years; the hope is that in 2018 and beyond, the event will break-even.
No charges for Vernell Bing Jr. killer
Jacksonville activists sought charges in the police-involved shooting of Vernell Bing, Jr. — However, a year and a half after Bing’s death, those charges won’t come to pass, First Coast Newsreports.
The lawyer representing Bing’s family notes that civil charges are likely, however.
“While I’m sure folks are going to be very disappointed, very frustrated, that there is another criminal case of a police shooting of a young black man on the streets of Jacksonville, I can tell you we intend — if they didn’t criminally — we intend to hold him accountable civilly,” the lawyer said.
Likely, State Attorney Melissa Nelson will get pushback from local activists, but not the kind that will hurt her appreciably in a re-election bid.
For her part, Nelson noted that “we have conducted a thorough review of this shooting incident and determined the shooting was justified under applicable Florida law. We have established new protocols for both how we review officer-involved shootings and how we report our findings to the public. These new rules include the creation of an officer-involved shooting review team comprising investigators and prosecutors, who collectively, have more than 350 years of experience; the release of a comprehensive report detailing our analyses; and the simultaneous release of all relevant public records. These steps are taken to ensure accuracy in our findings and transparency in our work. This is the type of commitment the public expects and the type this office will maintain for years to come.”
Nelson has developed a pattern of messaging around controversial cases with an exhaustive amount of detail; this is no exception.
Shad Khan makes Forbes list of ‘best business minds’
Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan was named one of The World’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds by Forbes magazine. The magazine compiled the list for a special Centennial issue, which includes Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.
“My business goals have been consistent with my personal goals, and that’s to be distinctive and not only be unafraid of doing difficult things but commit to doing those things well so they can inspire others and make a difference in the lives of everyone,” Khan is quoted in the piece.
In addition to owning the Jaguars, Khan is CEO of auto-parts supplier Flex-N-Gate Corp., owns London’s Fulham Football Club and the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto.
Khan bought the Jaguars in 2012 for $770 million, and according to Forbes, the club is now worth over $2 billion.
Jax Zoo Manatee Critical-Care Center welcomes first patients
Two manatees became the first patients at the new Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens $2 million Critical Care Center.
Dahlia Ghabor of the Jacksonville Business Journal reports: “Cassie and Buckeye weighed only 66 and 63 pounds when they were rescued. Now, Cassie is at 775 pounds and Buckeye at 625. The manatees will remain at the Jacksonville care center to continue their critical weight gain and monitoring until they are ready to be released in the winter.”
While the Center — one of four in the state — is not an actual zoo exhibit, visitors can view the recovery pool, which is adjacent to the Wild Florida exhibit.
Craig Miller, the Zoo’s curator of mammals and chair of the Manatee Rescue Rehabilitation Partnership and leader of the zoo’s Marine Mammal Response Team, tells the TBJ that the facility will help reduce transport time for injured manatees back to warm water release sites.
“I get the sense from talking to guests that the community is pretty excited about this, because it’s something in their backyard,” Miller said. “We’re pretty excited about being able to help these wild animals. That’s what it’s all about for so many of us in this field.”
Armada suffer historic collapse in 3-3 draw vs New York
For most of the match in Brooklyn Sunday night, the Jacksonville Armada FC seemed sure of taking home three points Sunday. But the New York Cosmos made a surprising comeback to force a 3-3 draw at MCU Park. It matched the Cosmos biggest comeback in the modern NASL history — New York came back from 3 goals down Aug. 8, 2015, to draw Fort Lauderdale 3-3 in South Florida.
A trio of moves led to the first goal in the 13th minute. Jack Blake launched a corner kick toward the front of the goal and Kalen Ryden headed it straight to Ciarán Kilduff, who gave the Armada FC a 1-0 lead.
Kilduff earned a brace in the 41st minute with his second goal of the night. Kilduff stole the ball from New York’s Danny Szetela and made a mazy run toward the goal, poking the ball past goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck for the second goal of the night.
New York was unable to capitalize on their limited opportunities and left the field trailing by two at halftime.
The second half began with back and forth action, but neither side found a goal until 20 minutes in. Zach Steinberger earned a penalty kick after going down inside the box, and Blake stepped up to the spot. He struck the ball past Zobeck for his eighth goal of the year — another new franchise record for the Armada FC.
The 3-0 lead for the Armada was short-lived, however.
The Cosmos’ Javi Márquez was first to chip away at Jacksonville’s lead. He cut the deficit by one for New York in the 79th minute after beating the Armada defense and slotting a shot home for a goal.
Ten minutes later, Ayoze tracked down a ball in the corner to keep it in play. Then he crossed it over to Eugene Starikov who headed it in just barely over goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell’s fingers. Entering second-half stoppage time, the Armada were handing on for dear life and eventually conceded.
In the final minute of the match, Juan Guerra took a shot just inside the 18-yard box to curl it into the back post and equalize the score.
Although leaving New York with a disappointing draw, the Jacksonville Armada remains one point above the Cosmos in the Fall Season and in fourth place in the combined standings, a position for a postseason slot in the Championship.
The Armada will now return home for two matches at Hodges Stadium. First, the team will face the Spring Champions, the Miami FC, Sunday, Sept. 24. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the club will also honor First Responders at the match. Then, the rescheduled match with Indy Eleven will take place Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 8 p.m. The Armada have not played a home match this month due to Hurricane Irma’s impact on First Coast.
U.S. Rep. Darren Soto also contacted Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s office and offered to lend federal recovery resources.
“It is heartbreaking seeing the damage Hurricane Maria caused our neighbors, including widespread flooding, destruction of infrastructure and wiping out electricity in all of Puerto Rico,” said Soto, whose father was born in Puerto Rico.
During a FEMA visit in Jacksonville Wednesday, Soto spoke with Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen about gathering support for Puerto Rico in the FEMA supplemental package. Soto said he will write a letter to the United States Department of Homeland Security requesting additional support to ensure the island has sufficient funding to handle the crisis.
“In the short-term, we need to make sure that FEMA is prepared to address the Island’s immediate needs, such as supplying food, water, and medical supplies to all citizens,” he said in a statement released Thursday. “As we reflect on how to better prepare for future natural disasters, we need to improve both Florida’s and Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure by moving more power lines underground and replacing wooden poles with cement pylons where appropriate. Let’s make strategic, sustainable investments so we can be ready for the next storm.”
The congressman plans to visit Puerto Rico in the next few weeks to assess the damage and recovery efforts on the island.
“The devastation in Puerto Rico and its Caribbean neighbors is heart wrenching and catastrophic,” said State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is working with community organizations to mobilize funds and supplies to those most in need in Puerto Rico. “What is important for Floridians to know is that now is the time to step up and help our fellow Americans on the island.”
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham wrote to Florida’s two senators and twenty-seven congressional representatives asking them to support relief and recovery funding for fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to help the islands rebuild after hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“Just as we helped our neighbors in Florida, we must now stand with our neighbors in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, who just days after enduring Hurricane Irma, have been hit by Hurricane Maria, another devastating storm,” Graham wrote in her statement.