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Coronavirus in Florida

Waiting game continues for Florida ports

Congress has yet to reach a deal on industry aid.

Long-sought federal assistance for the state’s seaports might have to wait until next year as Congress remains unable to reach a deal on COVID-19  aid, a top lobbyist for the industry said this week.

Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler, who has been working with the state’s congressional delegation since spring on including ports in federal economic-stimulus efforts, said Tuesday he doesn’t anticipate any new relief until the installation of the next Congress in January.

“We’ve continued to advocate with our U.S. Senate and House of Representative partners to seek that funding that we feel will be so critical to sort of help buoy our ports, our maritime industries associated with our ports,” Wheeler said during an online forum with Enterprise Florida. “This time, there’s been no federal funding. We’re optimistic that this is something that will change when the new Congress comes together in the New Year.”

The ports council estimates the virus has caused the loss of about $23 billion in economic activity, resulting in 169,000 jobs tied in some aspect to ports being affected.

A big part of the loss involves the cruise industry, which has had a drop of about 10 million people moving through cruise ship terminals.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently replaced a “no sail” order with a framework of safety protocols to resume operations.

“This has been a really, really devastating year for the cruise industry, and that includes our ports, who in some cases have had to make some really difficult decisions in order to make sure that, you know, first and foremost they can maintain a state of operational readiness to make sure that they’re ready to resume when the resumption occurs,” Wheeler said.

On Wednesday, Carnival Cruise posted online it will initially focus on gradually ramping up operations at PortMiami and Port Canaveral when the company embarkations restart after Jan. 31.

Carnival operations are set to return to Jacksonville on Feb. 28, with the Carnival Legend out of Tampa on hold until March 26.

“We are committed to meeting the CDC requirements and keeping our guests and business partners informed of our progress,” Carnival President Christine Duffy said in a prepared statement. “The entire Carnival team appreciates the great support of our guests, travel advisers and business partners, and local officials in our home ports and destinations.”

The Florida Ports Council and other organizations have been pushing since spring to be included in much-debated additional rounds of federal stimulus funding. But the House, Senate and White House, which agreed on the $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act in March, have been unable to reach a deal on additional aid.

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Republished with permission from the News Service of Florida.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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