A bail out for the state’s sinking cruise ship industry is on the horizon.
The Florida House and Senate have agreed to a $250 million appropriation of American Rescue Plan (ARP) funds to offset COVID-19 impacts to the state’s cruise and cargo ship industries.
The U.S. cruise industry is currently under a conditional sailing order due to the pandemic. A no-sail order had been in place from March through September of last year.
The Florida Ports Council, which pushed for seaports to be included in pandemic relief funding, estimated Florida has lost 169,000 jobs and nearly $23 billion in economic activity through 2020 because of Covid-19 impacts on the cruise industry.
The budget for the cruise industry is buried in the biggest expenditure of the ARP funds: $2 billion for the State Transportation Trust Fund, which was depleted during the pandemic. From those funds $1.75 billion will be used for highway projects. The rest of that money will be used for a grant program for the state’s seaports administered through the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council (FSTEDC) within the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Language in the budget bill stipulates the grant funds must be used to offset COVID-19 impacts to the state’s cruise and cargo industries.
One of the duties of the FSTEDC under state law is to develop a priority list of projects based on criteria such as economic benefit, readiness for construction, noncompetition with other Florida ports, and capacity within the seaport system. FSTEDC then submits the list to DOT, which determines funding priorities.
The allocation follows a recommendation from Gov. Ron DeSantis in March for Florida’s seaports to receive $258.2 million out of the state’s share of ARP funds to account for the losses accrued because of the no-sail order.
Michael Rubin, Florida Ports Council vice president of governmental affairs, released a statement thanking legislative leaders and DeSantis for “critical relief to Florida’s ports as they continue to deliver necessities to businesses and consumers.”
DeSantis is also fighting on behalf of the cruise industry over the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) order limiting U.S. sailing activity. DeSantis announced in April Florida was filing a lawsuit against the federal government and the CDC to demand cruise ships “open immediately.”
The coronavirus relief funds for the state’s seaports will come from $10.2 billion earmarked for state and local governments headed to Florida from the $1.9 trillion ARP Act signed by President Joe Biden in March.