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Takeaways from Tallahassee — A Cinderella dilemma

The state has to spend a quarter-billion on housing aid by the end of the year. But it won’t be willy-nilly.

A Cinderella dilemma

Compared to the $2.2 trillion allocated when the president signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act in March, the $250 million of that money allotted to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation seems like small change.

But it makes a world of difference to tens of thousands Floridians impacted by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic who can take advantage of rent and mortgage assistance programs administered by Florida Housing.

The first waves of money started being sent out in early August, said Florida Housing Executive Director Trey Price. The organization, which serves as the steward of state and federal affordable housing money, recently approved an additional $45 million in relief funds, expected to be disbursed in early October.

Florida Housing has allotted $120 million in assistance to residents of 551 affordable multifamily rental housing developments in the organization’s housing portfolio. According to the corporation, the funding will assist over 10,000 rental households in the state.

Trey Price has a Cinderella dilemma on his hands.

Two million dollars is set aside to provide funds for 33 special needs or homeless developments overseen by Florida Housing, to pay for coronavirus-related expenses such as extra staffing and cleaning services and supplies.

“These are properties that require more human interaction, so there needs to be additional cleaning. There needs to be additional time paid for people to do that,” Price explained. “Those are generally nonprofit-run developments having some issues with having to pay more money to take care of their folks.”

Another $120 million is being funneled to all 67 Florida counties and several cities to assist homeowners and renters through a modified version of its existing SHIP (State Housing Initiatives Partnership) program. Within funding guidelines, participating local governments can prioritize how they use the money in their communities.

“We’ve worked with our local government partners to make (SHIP) more flexible, but it needs to essentially be three things: rental assistance, mortgage assistance and, in some rare cases, emergency repairs in which work can be done and paid for by the end of the year,” Price said.

That’s because Florida Housing faces a Cinderella dilemma — they must spend the money by the end of 2020, or it disappears.

“As of right now, unless Congress miraculously passes something that extends the deadline, the deadline is Dec. 30,” Price said.

This is not to say Florida Housing is handing out money willy-nilly.

Local SHIP offices operated by local governments currently do similar work every Florida county. “There is at least a part-time staff person or a full-time staff person that deals with housing issues for local government (and) bigger cities like Orlando, Miami and others,” he said. “The money is not going directly to the tenant or the mortgagee. The money is linked to the landlords and going to the lenders. So that’s taking a large portion of concern completely out of it because the money is going to where it’s owed.”

For more information about Florida Housing’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, visit its website or call 1-888-362-7885.

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Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Hurricane Sally hits Panhandle — Gov. Ron DeSantis said power restoration and reconstruction in the Panhandle remain the priorities after Hurricane Sally struck. While the storm made landfall near Gulf Shores, Alabama, the Category 2 hurricane delivered 30 inches of rain to Pensacola over four hours Wednesday. More than 7,000 linemen are working in the state after an estimated 250,000 homes lost power at some point. Flooding and debris have also impacted roadways and damaged structures, a top priority for law enforcement and emergency management.

Grosshans appointed to Supreme Court — After the Florida Supreme Court ruled Gov. DeSantis’ first choice for an appointment, Renatha Francis, was not qualified to serve, he appointed 5th District Court of Appeals Judge Jamie Grosshans to a vacancy on Florida’s high court. DeSantis meanwhile recommended Francis for a federal appointment. Grosshans was previously appointed to the 5th District Court of Appeal in 2018. Before that, she served as an Orange County Judge in the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida, where she presided over criminal and civil matters. As she prepared to move to the Tallahassee post, she also participated in six written Appeals Court decisions.

Gillum comes out — The former gubernatorial nominee and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum sat down with national talk show host Tamron Hall, where he came out as bisexual and addressed a Miami incident in March when he was found in a hotel room nude; the room also contained bags of suspected drugs and a purported male escort being treated for an overdose. When asked if he may someday seek political office again, Gillum said yes, while acknowledging it could be challenging. He’s never faced any criminal charges for the Miami incident, and wife R. Jai sat beside him for part of the interview and a segment with Hall alone.

Florida ends unemployment program — While Floridians on unemployment will continue to receive an extra $300 weekly benefit from the Federal Lost Wages Assistance, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced this would likely be the last week for the supplement. The state has logged 3.88 million total claims for pandemic jobless assistance in the past week, up about 70,000 claims over the previous week. Of those, 3.72 million were unique jobless claims, meaning they were not duplicates. In all, $14.89 billion was paid since the COVID-19 outbreak. The news of dropping the federal payment came as hospitality and tourism companies, including SeaWorld, announced mass layoffs.

Moody blasts ‘Cuties’ — Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody signed onto a letter with three other Republican attorneys general demanding Netflix take down the controversial film “Cuties.” She criticized the film for sexualizing young girls, which could encourage pedophiles and sex trafficking. While the movie’s director, Maimouna Doucouré, says the film intends to show the problems of child exploitation, the movie stirred a firestorm in America. The pressure from the attorneys general comes amid an outcry among cultural conservatives calling on an investigation of the streaming service. Moody said her critique of the film goes hand in hand with efforts to combat human trafficking in Florida and nationally.

Coronavirus Numbers

Positive cases:

— 669,684 FL residents (+18,762 since Sept. 11)

— 7,976 Non-FL residents (+517 since Sept. 11)

Origin:

— 5,345 Travel related

— 237,108 Contact with a confirmed case

— 5,643 Both

— 421,588 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 42,234 in FL

Deaths:

— 13,387 in FL

‘Clean Energy Week’

DeSantis proclaimed Sept. 21—25 as Clean Energy Week in Florida.

“Clean Energy Week in Florida is an opportunity to encourage all individuals and organizations to implement eco-friendly and clean energy practices that reduce air pollution and mitigate other harmful impacts to our environment, benefiting our state for generations to come,” the proclamation said.

With the Governor’s signature, Florida now joins 18 states and Washington, D.C. to recognize Clean Energy Week formally.

Ron DeSantis makes Florida the 18th state to recognize Clean Energy Week formally.

According to NationalCleanEnergyWeek.org, the celebration is a bipartisan effort to recognize clean energy innovation.

“We bring together business leaders, advocates, policymakers and trade associations from all perspectives who are dedicated to advancing clean energy,” the website says. “Together, we harness the power of the free market and government collaboration to create jobs, expand our economy, strengthen America’s national security, and preserve our environment.”

The celebration comes months after the COVID-19 pandemic delivered a blow to Florida’s clean energy industry.

In May, nearly 30,000 Floridians working in the clean energy sector lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Nationwide, unemployment claims across the sector show 594,347 lost their jobs between March and April.

The clean energy sector was one of the fastest expanding in America before the COVID-19 pandemic, growing 10.4% since 2015 to 3.4 million jobs at the end of 2019.

Lines are open

Attorney General Moody increased the coverage of Florida’s Price Gouging Hotline to include more counties along the path of Hurricane Sally.

Bay, Calhoun, Escambia, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Liberty, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Walton and Washington counties now join Escambia and Santa Rosa in accepting reports of “unconscionable price increases on essential commodities.”

Ashley Moody activates the state’s price gouging hotline.

“We are at the peak of a very active hurricane season,” Moody commented. “Currently, the Atlantic Ocean has five tropical cyclones simultaneously, including Hurricane Sally. All Floridians should take this time to prepare for a potential storm. Ensuring you have the resources you need to get you and your family through a storm should be done now, not later. And as you prepare, if you see potential price gouging, do not hesitate to report it. My office stands ready to stop gouging and protect consumers.”

The expansion comes from DeSantis declaring a state of emergency for the counties as mentioned earlier. State law prohibits excessive price increases during storm-related states of emergency on essential commodities, including food, water, hotel rooms, ice, gasoline and lumber.

Restrictions on price gouging pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Michael also remain in effect. Suspected price gouging may be reported using the NO SCAM app or by calling 1-866 9NO-SCAM.

Emergency assistance

In response to the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sally, the Florida Forest Service has deployed a Type 2 Incident Management Team to the Florida Panhandle to assist in Urban Search and Rescue operations.

The 36-person crew headed to Crestview on Wednesday to begin assessing conditions on the ground.

“With historic flooding in Florida’s Panhandle from Hurricane Sally, we have deployed our Incident Management Team and hardworking Florida Forest Service personnel to support emergency response efforts,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “We are continuing to work with state and local partners to help keep everyone in Sally’s path safe throughout this disaster.”

For Hurricane Sally, Nikki Fried deploys the Incident Management Team to the Panhandle.

The Commissioner also announced Wednesday that the Florida Department of Transportation would waive size and weight restrictions on agricultural vehicles for all counties west of Leon County.

The Forest Service is a division of the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which manages over 1 million acres of state forests. It provides management assistance on over 17 million acres of private and community forests.

Complete the Census

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis launched a campaign this week to encourage Floridians to complete the 2020 U.S. Census.

The campaign will utilize social media and other media platforms to generate more awareness among Floridians.

The deadline to submit your 2020 Census is Sept. 30, 2020.

“It is vital that we have the entire state participate, and I’m urging all Floridians to take just a few minutes and visit my2020Census.gov to make sure you and your family are counted and help ensure a bright future for Florida,” Patronis said in a news release.

Jimmy Patronis is urging all Floridians to fill out the census.

The CFO also noted that some regions of the state have been more responsive than others. He added that participation is vital to supporting Florida’s future.

“Not only does the data collected by the census serve as the basis for fair political representation, it also plays a major role in determining the amount of funding that state governments and local communities receive from the federal government for the next decade,” Patronis said.

Census data can also help first responders and emergency managers better allocate emergency resources during a crisis or natural disaster.

Florida is 10th nationwide in the census response rate.

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

Florida Building Commission — DeSantis appointed W. Grey Marker II, Rodney Hershberger, James Schock, David John, Michael Bourré and Paul Jones to the Florida Building Commission. Marker, of Fort Lauderdale, is CEO of Marker Construction Group. Hershberger, of Sarasota, is Chairman of the Board for PGT Innovations. Schock, of Saint Augustine, is the senior plans examiner and flood plain manager for the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners. John, of Tarpon Springs, is the engineering manager for Stan Weaver & Company. Bourré, of Fleming Island, is the president of Bourré Construction Group. Jones, of Jacksonville, is the president and COO of W.W. Gay Mechanical Contractor.

Florida Commission on Human Relations — The Governor appointed Kenyetta Mullins Moye to the Florida Commission on Human Relations. Moye has been the chief of human resource management for the Florida Department of Financial Services since 2019 and previously worked as the agency’s employee relations manager. She earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Florida and a law degree from Florida State University.

Florida Supreme Court — DeSantis appointed Judge Grosshans of the 5th District Court of Appeal to fill a vacancy on the state’s highest court. Before serving on the 5DCA, she served as an Orange County Judge in the 9th Judicial Circuit of Florida, presiding over criminal and civil matters. Grosshans also served as an Assistant State Attorney for Orange County. She earned her law degree from the University of Mississippi, where she graduated cum laude.

Think before you drink

As Hurricane Sally hit the state, the Florida Department of Health reminded Floridians that heavy rainfall and flooding could contaminate local water supplies.

DOH said individuals in storm-hit areas cannot assume that it is safe to use water from the tap and need to watch for public announcements regarding the safety of their water supply.

Hurricane Sally is forcing Florida communities to carefully watch their drinking water.

Storms can affect public water treatment plants, water lines and private wells — meaning citizens affected by the storms must err on the side of caution until their water is tested.

The DOH notes that only safe drinking water should be used for washing dishes, brushing teeth, preparing food, and making ice. Bottled, boiled or disinfected water can be used in the immediate aftermath of a storm that may have contaminated the water.

DOH cautions Floridians to know the source of any bottled water and only drink commercially available labels.

“The only way to verify that water is safe to drink is to have it tested by a certified laboratory,” the Department advises. “If chemical contamination occurs, use commercially produced bottled water until a safe water source is obtained.”

Citizens are encouraged to contact the DOH for instructions on getting their water tested.

Call ASAP

The Department of Financial Services provided more details this week for Floridians covered by FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program Resources.

Those impacted by Hurricane Sally with coverage are encouraged to contact their insurance agents as soon as possible for more information about filing a claim.

FEMA agents can be reached directly at 1-800-621-3362.

Hurricane Sally has brought massive flooding. Image via AP.

Once starting a claim, FEMA suggests documenting all damage. Adequate documentation includes taking photos and videos, recording serial numbers and securing receipts.

FEMA also suggested policyholders should take steps to stop the spread of mold if safe to do so.

According to FEMA, 1 inch of water can cause $25,000 of damage to a home.

More information on FEMA’S National Flood Insurance Program is available online.

Call ASAP, part deux

Citizens Property Insurance is urging policyholders to contact them as soon as possible in the wake of Hurricane Sally.

“Citizens is ready to assist our policyholders as they recover from Hurricane Sally,” said President and CEO Barry Gilway. “Our claims representatives are ready to help. All you have to do is call.”

You can contact Citizens representatives around the clock at 1.866.411.2742.

Meanwhile, Citizens is warning policyholders to be wary of unlicensed contractors and “deals that sound too good to be true.”

Citizens Insurance officials say homeowners should begin the claims process quickly. Image via AP.

“Unfortunately, unscrupulous contractors and repair companies thrive in the frenzied days following any storm,” they warned.

Policyholders are discouraged from signing anything before consulting with an insurance agent.

Citizens policyholders can report suspected fraud to the Citizens Special Investigations Unit at 1.855.748.9596 or online.

They can also contact the Department of Financial Services Consumer Helpline at 1.877.693.5236. All reports are referred to insurance fraud investigators.

The Florida Legislature created Citizens Property Insurance Corporation in 2002. The not-for-profit alternative insurer’s public purpose is to provide insurance to property owners who cannot find coverage in the private insurance market.

More information on claims is online.

Help DEO help you

The Department of Economic Opportunity and the State Emergency Response Team activated the Business Damage Assessment Survey this week to help guide business recovery efforts in the wake of Hurricane Sally.

The program, managed by DEO, gathers information from businesses affected by disasters and shares it with local, state and federal agencies.

Completed surveys will help determine which emergency support programs might aid recovery efforts in the area. Local, state and federal officials will use this information to provide any needed assistance programs needed for recovery.

“Our thoughts and efforts are with everyone affected by Hurricane Sally,” said Dane Eagle, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “We will work with Gov. DeSantis and the Division of Emergency Management to support recovery efforts and assist businesses and families impacted by the storm. We encourage any business affected by the storm to complete the Business Damage Assessment survey at FloridaDisaster.biz.”

Newly named DEO head Dane Eagle vows to work with victims of Hurricane Sally.

DEO is currently surveying businesses in the Northwest Florida counties where Sally’s winds and rains wreaked havoc.

The survey can be filled out online — head to the DEO survey page and select “Hurricane Sally” from the drop-down menu.

Senate digs get makeover

Lawmakers last week quietly unveiled its $3.1 million makeover to the Pat Thomas Committee Room, one of the most frequently used committee rooms in the Capitol Complex.

While there were still technical kinks to iron out during the first meeting hosted in the room, the complete refurbishment boasts improved lighting and security, projector screens and teleconference capabilities.

“The new design has produced a versatile, state-of-the-art meeting room that will improve the ability of our constituents to safely interact with us here in Tallahassee or to watch our proceedings from afar, which is now more important than ever due to the ongoing pandemic,” Senate President Bill Galvano said in a memo to Senators the day before the Legislative Budget Commission Committee meeting, the room’s inaugural gathering.

Along with improved lighting, a wooden barrier completely separates lawmakers from the public. The panel for public testimony was also dropped to the same level as the public, exaggerating the elevation difference between committee members and attendees.

Outlets along the back wall give reporters and lobbyists additional spaces to charge their devices.

“It’s consistent with what I think that people expect when they come to Tallahassee and see the people’s business being done,” said Senate budget chief Rob Bradley during the meeting. “It’s certainly updated so that we will be prepared for the 21st century, from a security standpoint, from a visual standpoint so that those who can’t be with us can more clearly see what’s going on.”

While the slick renovation is more visually appealing, the teleconferencing technology caused early problems and more than a couple of restart attempts with a significant delay on the remote line. After that was apparently fixed, a “bad echo,” as Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson called it, challenged lawmakers’ ability to speak when calling in.

Ultimately, the joint House and Senate committee successfully finished the meeting with each members’ questions fully answered.

Keefe fighting corruption

Public officials at all levels of government across North Florida are on notice that the United States Attorney’s Office’s Public Trust Unit is diligently chasing corruption

One year since U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe established the unit, investigators and federal attorneys have charged 57 defendants in 19 cases in the Northern District of Florida’s 23 counties.

“The word is out that we have zero tolerance for any betrayal of the public trust and that we will continue to vigorously make cases against those who put their own selfish interest above the public interest,” Keefe said. “We hope this commitment also serves to have a deterrent effect on those who may be inclined to consider corrupting themselves or others in any scheme or scam.”

Larry Keefe is touting his record on fighting corruption.

Crimes revealed by the unit include theft by postal workers and fraud schemes tied to Hurricane Michael that have traced as high as mayoral offices.

“Whether its elected officeholders selling their votes, appointed officials betraying their legal and ethical responsibilities, or medical providers defrauding public health care programs, they share one thing in common: They are eroding public faith in the institutions of government. And we will stop them,” Keefe said.

The unit and its team of prosecutors and investigators have outperformed expectations, the U.S. Attorney says, in restoring integrity, responsibility and trust in the region.

“At the heart of our American way of life is the sacred principle that a public office is a public trust, and we are fully committed to pursuing, prosecuting, and punishing anyone who would violate that trust,” Keefe said.

Officers on deck

The Florida Ports Council named Manuel Almira this week as the new chairman.

Almira boasts more than 35 years of experience in the maritime industry with a background in international imports and exports. He replaces PortMiami CEO Juan Kuryla, who completed his term.

“Manuel Almira has been a strong advocate of Florida’s seaports since he joined the team at the Port of Palm Beach more than a decade ago,” said Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler. “We know his leadership will strengthen the Florida Ports Council so we can ensure Florida’s ports are the global leaders of tomorrow.”

Florida Ports Council names Manuel Almira this week as the new chair. Image via the Palm Beach Post.

The Florida Ports Council is also naming Port Everglades Director Jonathan Daniels as vice-chair and St. Pete Port Manager David Wirth as Secretary/Treasurer. Both council positions are one-year terms.

The Florida Ports Council is a professional association representing Florida’s 14 public seaports. Sunshine State ports support nearly 900,000 jobs and contribute $117.6 billion annually to the state’s economy.

Almira said he’s ready to take the helm.

“I am excited to help lead our ports forward,” he said. “Especially given the current challenging economic environment and the opportunities we have to diversify, grow and provide world-class service all around the globe.”

Real estate scholars

Florida A&M University will be one of four schools to share in a $500,000 scholarship program from Chicago-based LaSalle Investment Management.

The program will have a five-year, $100,000 per year commitment. Sophomores will have the opportunity to receive $10,000 toward their education and access to mentors within LaSalle and experience in commercial real estate.

FAMU is named 1 of 4 schools selected for $500K in LaSalle real estate scholarships.

“It is our strong belief that racial and all other forms of diversity at all levels of our organization and in society at large, will lead to a better future,” LaSalle CEO Jason Kern said. “As a whole, the real estate and financial services industry has lagged its peers, but at LaSalle, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of positive, meaningful change in the diverse makeup of our industry.”

“This initiative will make a significant difference in the career trajectory of our students,” said Shawnta Friday-Stroud, FAMU’s vice president of University Advancement and dean of the School of Business and Industry. “The combination of scholarships and out-of-classroom educational opportunities with LaSalle will give our students a boost in entering the competitive and lucrative real estate investment industry.”

The other schools benefiting are Roosevelt University, Morehouse College and Spelman College.

FSU Fulbrights

Nine Florida State University faculty members across various fields have been selected for the Fulbright Scholar Program, marking a record for the school. The scholars will teach and conduct research funded by the Fulbright Program during the 2020-21 school year.

Florida State congratulates Woody Kim, Patricia Villeneuve, Antonio Terracciano, David Johnson, Jessica Wendorf Muhamad, Lori Gooding, Marcia A. Mardis, Kurtis Johnson and Chris Hinnant for earning U.S. Fulbright Scholar awards for the 2020-2021 school year. Image via FSU.

Marcia A. Mardis, professor and associate dean for research in the College of Communication and Information, received the Fulbright Research Chair in Education at the University of Alberta Faculty of Education.

Woody Kim, professor and the director of the International Center for Hospitality Research & Development in the Dedman School of Hospitality, received a Fulbright award for the ASEAN Research Program, where he will explore the practices of green initiatives of hotels in Thailand and Vietnam.

Antonio Terracciano, associate professor in the College of Medicine, received a grant for research at the University of Jyväskylä in Finland.

David Johnson, an English professor at the College of Arts and Sciences, received a grant to study at the KU Leuven in Belgium.

Jessica Wendorf Muhamad, assistant professor in the College of Communication and Information, received a grant for research at the Universidad del Norte in Barranquilla in Colombia.

Patricia Villeneuve, professor and program director for Arts Administration in the College of Fine Arts, received a grant for collaborative research in Belgium.

Lori Gooding, assistant professor in the College of Music, received a grant to study at the Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Kurtis Johnson, research faculty in the Department of Physics, received a grant for research at the University of Bari, Italy. Johnson has been using machine learning methods for particle physics analysis since 2007.

Chris Hinnant, associate professor and current chair of the doctoral program in the School of Information, received a grant to work at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

The Council for International Exchange of Scholars administers the U.S. Fulbright Scholar Program on behalf of the U.S. Department of State. The program awards nearly 470 teaching and research opportunities in more than 125 countries.

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