Rick Scott makes big dollar request from Congress to recover from Irma

Irma claims

With the holiday season approaching, Gov. Rick Scott offered congressional leaders his federal wish list of projects that he says will help Florida cleanup after Hurricane Irma barreled through two months ago.

In a letter penned to House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Scott on Wednesday called on Congress to pass a disaster relief package for Florida agriculture; fund the work of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee and speed up the project so it can be completed by 2022; fund the federal share that the state is expected to spend to house; and educate the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican families who have been displaced by Hurricane Maria and emigrated to Florida.

And oh yes, why they’re at it, make sure to reform the National Flood Insurance Program.

Damage caused by Irma compounded the years-long citrus greening disease, an existential threat to Florida’s citrus growers. That’s why Scott proposed more than $21 million for citrus related issues earlier this month, as well as a $25 million Florida Citrus Emergency Loan Program.

“While I continue to be 100 percent committed to helping citrus growers recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma, the state cannot do this alone,” Scott said in the letter.

Regarding Puerto Rican residents who have relocated to Florida, Scott says that number has now grown to more than 150,000. In his proposed state budget for 2018-19, Scott built in $12 million for an English Language Learners Summer Academies program to assist students that need additional support to learn English.

Scott also noted that since the inception of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP), “Florida policyholders have paid in excess of $16 billion in premiums, but collected only approximately $4.5 billion in claims reimbursements, which equates to approximately a 4 to 1 ratio of premiums paid to claims reimbursements.”

Largely on party lines, the House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to reauthorize the NFIP for five years.

Scott also proposed last month to spend $50 million in his budget to help accelerate the fixing of the Herbert Hoover Dike at Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corps of Engineers is working on a repair project that should be complete in 2025, but the governor wants it done by 2022.

That would require an extra $200 million in funding per year.

Here’s the letter in full:

Dear Majority Leader McConnell and Speaker Ryan,

On the morning of September 10, 2017, Hurricane Irma made landfall on Florida’s Cudjoe Key as a powerful and deadly Category 4 hurricane. Over the past two months, as Florida has responded to and now recovers from this devastating storm, we have identified critical areas in which the support of the federal government is essential to our full recovery. I hope that you will carefully review each of these critical topics and immediately take action to provide Florida with the funding and support Floridians need.

HURRICANE RELIEF FOR FLORIDA’S CITRUS INDUSTRY

Florida’s iconic citrus industry is in jeopardy due to the absolute devastation of Hurricane Irma which damaged nearly every grove in our state. The damage caused by Irma is compounded by the fact that many of Florida’s orange groves are already reeling from a crop-killing disease known as citrus greening. Impacts to Florida’s citrus industry have national consequences. Florida ranks highest in the nation in value of production for oranges and accounts for 57 percent of total U.S. citrus production. In Florida, we know how important it is to support our citrus growers and that’s why earlier this month I announced a more than $21 million proposed investment, which has to be approved by the Florida Legislature, in Florida’s citrus industry. This funding includes:

$10 million for citrus research to find solutions to citrus greening, a disease that has compounded devastation to our state’s citrus crop;

$4 million to support Department of Citrus consumer awareness efforts to support the market for Florida citrus and orange juice; and

$7 million for the Citrus Health Response Program, which helps ensure that growers are able to replant healthy citrus trees that were destroyed by Hurricane Irma, and helps minimize the spread of citrus greening.

I also activated a $25 million Florida Citrus Emergency Loan Program. This program provides short-term loans to citrus growers that experienced damages during the storm to “bridge the gap” between the time Hurricane Irma hit and when growers receive payments on insurance claims and/or federal disaster assistance.

While I continue to be 100 percent committed to helping citrus growers recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma, the state cannot do this alone. As you may know, I recently visited Washington D.C. to personally advocate for Congress to pass a disaster relief package for Florida agriculture, including funding for the citrus industry. These federal investments are critical to the recovery and success of Florida’s iconic citrus industry. I urge you to act today to give Florida’s citrus growers the support they need. I truly hope you will be a partner with us in ensuring the future success of this iconic industry that is a major part of Florida’s economy.

FUNDING CRITICAL REPAIRS TO THE FEDERAL HERBERT HOOVER DIKE

For more than 30 years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has identified areas of the federally-operated Herbert Hoover Dike that are in critical need of repair. Immediate action to repair the Dike is essential as this structure not only provides flood protection to millions of Floridians in Southeast and Southwest Florida, but also keeps the nutrient rich waters of Lake Okeechobee in the lake so that discharges to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries do not continue to occur. With the Dike in its current state of disrepair, the Corps has been forced to authorize massive discharges into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries to keep water levels on the lake low. These discharges create significant issues in the form of toxic algae blooms that threaten the health of Florida families and wildlife, harm our iconic beaches and waterways and negatively impact tourism in communities across the state.

At the state level, I have already fought for and secured $50 million in state funding to speed repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike – becoming the first Florida governor to invest state dollars to expedite repairs to this federal project. To build on this investment, I recently announced that I am proposing to invest an additional $50 million of state funds to expedite this process. President Trump has committed to accelerate repairs and it is imperative that Congress supports this and acts on this federal project.

Currently, the projected completion date for this project is 2025 and it continues to be delayed due to lack of funding. Congress needs to act immediately to fund the work of the Corps and expedite this critical federal project to be completed by 2022 to keep Floridians safe and protect our environment.

CONTINUING RELIEF FOR DISPLACED FAMILIES FROM PUERTO RICO

Following Hurricane Maria’s devastating impact to Puerto Rico, I have been fully committed to taking every possible action to help our Puerto Rican neighbors and provide relief and assistance to displaced families coming to Florida. I have visited Puerto Rico twice at the invitation of Governor Ricardo Rosselló to provide assistance as they work to recover from this storm. Since October 3, 2017, Florida has welcomed more than 150,000 Puerto Ricans displaced by Maria and we have made it a priority to support them during this time of need. With Florida’s designation as a host state granted by the Trump Administration, we are in the process of compiling the financial impact in Florida to accommodate these individuals, including education and health services. At my direction, the Florida Division of Emergency Management continues to operate Disaster Relief Centers at Orlando International Airport and Miami International Airport to assist Puerto Rican families and provide them the resources and guidance they need as they arrive in our state. Florida has also taken significant action to waive fees and ensure displaced families have every opportunity to get a job and ensure their children are enrolled in school.

Last week, following Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offering Transitional Sheltering Assistance to Puerto Rican families in Florida, I have directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management to upgrade the activation status of the State Emergency Operations Center to Level 2. This will ensure that local, state and federal agencies are all working together, support more efficient and coordinated delivery of resources and greater planning as we respond to the needs of these families.

Additionally, I am proposing a $12 million English Language Learners Summer Academies program to assist students that need additional support to learn English, including a focus on listening, speaking, reading, and writing. As my Administration continues to work closely with FEMA and the White House, we will also keep you updated on our efforts and the cost associated with these services.

REFORMING THE NATIONAL FLOOD INSURANCE PROGRAM

The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is in desperate need of reform. Since the inception of the NFIP, Florida policyholders have paid in excess of $16 billion in premiums, but collected only approximately $4.5 billion in claims reimbursements, which equates to approximately a 4 to 1 ratio of premiums paid to claims reimbursements. Additionally, the NFIP should immediately share its more than 50 years of “proprietary” data with states and private insurers to ensure a fair market and that rates are not excessive or unfair and discriminatory. It is vital that Congress pass a reformed NFIP in order to stop it from losing billions of additional taxpayer dollars in future bailouts, improve the private market and facilitate savings for policyholders.

The issues I have outlined are essential to the long-term wellbeing, safety and prosperity of the people of Florida. I urge you to closely review these important topics and act immediately to provide assistance to your fellow Americans in Florida as we continue to recover from Irma. Please let me know what I can do to assist you in your efforts in Washington to secure the critical funding I have outlined and please keep me updated on any progress you make in this important endeavor to assist your fellow Americans in Florida.

 

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served five years as political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. Mitch also was assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley and is a San Francisco native who has lived in Tampa since 2000. Mitch can be reached at [email protected]



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