- Charlie Crist Britney Spears
- Charlie Crist polling
- Charlotte County tornadoes
- Dana Yount VISIT FLORIDA
- FEMA Fort Myers tornadoes
- Florida Bulldog Marco Rubio
- Florida fatherhood bill
- Florida tourism
- Florida unpaid medical claims
- Gov. Ron DeSantis FEMA
- House Speaker Chris Sprowls
- Lee County tornadoes
- major league baseball
- Marco Rubio unpaid vendors
- Spring training Florida
- Visit Florida
The tornadoes that struck Lee and Charlotte counties on Jan. 16 caused major damage throughout the area. The storm hit the unincorporated village of Iona particularly hard, with 108 homes damaged by 118 mph winds.
Gov. Ron DeSantis did the right thing, writing President Joe Biden for individual assistance to those needing it through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
FEMA’s response came on the day after Valentine’s Day: Nope.
“Based on the review of all information available, it has been determined that the damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the state, affected local governments, and volunteer agencies,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell wrote. “Accordingly, we have determined that supplemental federal assistance is not necessary.”
For the record: Those affected local governments and volunteer agencies are already stretched to the max. Volunteers are invaluable in the short term, but an event like this requires a larger response.
Under the individual assistance program that DeSantis requested, FEMA can provide money for temporary housing or a place for people to live if temporary housing isn’t readily available. It can provide funds for housing repairs and fill in the gaps when insurance doesn’t fully cover the damage.
WINK News in Fort Myers reported that 84% of those severely impacted by the tornadoes are on Social Security. The storm destroyed or severely damaged 158 homes.
Elderly residents of a destroyed mobile home park found it would cost $5,000 each — in cash — for a salvage company to remove their decimated homes. Some of the residents just gave up and signed their ownership papers to the company. Many of those mobile homes date to the 1970s, but it was home.
And this doesn’t rise to the level that FEMA considers worthy of assistance? If not, maybe officials should address that policy.
Conspiracy theorists may immediately conclude that FEMA’s action is payback for all the guff Biden received from DeSantis on other matters. Whether that’s true or not, I can’t blame them for thinking that.
But if it’s just standard policy, I think the President outranks a FEMA Administrator. This might be a good time to find out if that’s true. It probably wouldn’t change enough Republican minds in Florida about Biden’s performance, but it would be the right thing to do.
And now, on to our weekly game of winners and losers.
Honorable mention: Charlie Crist. The race for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination has six months to go, but Crist is surely celebrating the latest round of polling.
Floridians For Economic Advancement asked likely Democratic voters who they support for Governor. Crist got 36%, as compared to 25% for Nikki Fried and 6% for Annette Taddeo.
Crist also leads his Democratic rivals in fundraising, although DeSantis is a fundraising death star compared to whoever is the nominee from the rival party. For now, though, Crist can’t worry that DeSantis is waiting at the pass.
Neither Fried nor Taddeo expressed much concern about the new numbers.
“You should probably ask Gov. Adam Putnam about polling this far out,” Taddeo told POLITICO.
That’s a reference to the 2018 campaign where Putnam seemed like a shoo-in only to see things crash and burn after Donald Trump endorsed DeSantis.
Crist also got a shoutout from pop star Britney Spears after he and U.S. Rep. Eric Swalwell invited her to address Congress.
Spears posted a letter from Crist and Swalwell on Instagram about her long fight to break the conservatorship that gave her father control over much of her life.
“Many concerning issues that are commonplace in the guardianship and conservatorship process were brought to light,” they wrote. “Especially troubling was the news that, for years, you were unable to hire your own counsel to represent your personal and financial interests.”
They sent the letter on Dec. 1 last year. Spears said she only responded now because it took her that long to heal from the ordeal.
She said in the Instagram post, “I felt heard and like I mattered for the first time in my life.”
Almost (but not quite) biggest winner: Florida tourism. DeSantis and VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Dana Young are justifiably feeling good about the latest tourism numbers.
Florida had 30.9 million visitors between October and December 2021. That was the second consecutive quarter when overall visitation surpassed pre-pandemic levels in 2019.
“We are thrilled to cap off an incredible year with more record-breaking success for Florida’s tourism industry,” Young said. “Overall visitation not only exceeded 2019’s for the second quarter in a row but domestically reached the highest point in our state’s history.”
DeSantis praised the marketing effort by once-endangered VISIT FLORIDA.
“While tourism in other states is only just beginning to recover, Florida is at the front of the pack — now we are surpassing pre-pandemic levels and setting new visitation records,” he said.
“I’m thankful that VISIT FLORIDA continued to market our state throughout the past two years, and I am confident that 2022 will be another great year for Florida’s tourism industry.”
“We cannot legislate fatherhood, responsibility, or character,” Sprowls said. “But we can direct some state resources to ensure that fathers, father figures, and mentors have the support they need to be inspired, equipped, and excited about being present and active in their children’s lives.”
Sprowls said research shows children raised in fatherless homes are twice as likely to drop out of school, while fatherless boys are three times more likely to go to jail.
However, he said, children with father figures are twice as likely to attend college and hold a job. They’re also 80% less likely to spend time in jail.
The bill, which needs Senate approval, provides grants to help fathers find a job, satisfy child support obligations, transition from jail, and receive parenting education.
Democratic state Rep. Ramon Alexander, the leader of the Legislative Black Caucus, called the bill a “game-changer.”
“This is a monumental piece of legislation that will send shockwaves throughout our state for generations to come,” he said.
Dishonorable mention: Marco Rubio. Here’s a headline for you.
“As Marco Rubio’s Senate re-election campaign racks up millions, his failed 2016 presidential campaign still owes vendors more than $800,000.”
It leads into a story by the Florida Bulldog that used federal election records to show that six years after his run for President got “Trumped,” “Rubio’s campaign still owes its vendors $827,657.12.”
Rubio has had money problems before.
During his time in the Florida House from 2000 to 2008, Rubio used a state GOP American Express card to charge personal home kitchen remodeling expenses. He said he repaid that.
According to Open Secrets, Rubio had more than $10.5 million cash on hand by Dec. 31.
Rubio’s likely opponent in November, U.S. Rep. Val Demings, has $8.2 million and no debt.
Almost (but not quite) biggest loser: Major League Baseball. The owner-generated lockout already impacts local businesses that depend on the money they generate from spring training throughout the state.
Yes, overall, tourism is strong in Florida, but it would be even better if feuding players and owners could agree on how to carve up a massive revenue pie.
The biggest loser: Florida’s most vulnerable families. WUFT reported an alarming story of how for nearly three months, thousands of health care claims for the state’s sickest and neediest children went unpaid.
In many cases, that meant a loss of services for those children and crushing burdens on their families.
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before, but the problem is apparently a software glitch.
The problem started after the Oct. 1 merger of Sunshine State Health Plan Inc. of Tampa and WellCare of Florida, Inc. Those companies receive a combined $31.6 billion a year from the Agency for Health Care Administration. They manage care and offer outreach for tens of thousands of medically needy people.
As bills went unpaid after the merger, health care workers and companies cut back or temporarily halted services. According to the report, company executives didn’t alert the state until January. By then, this was a crisis on par with the Florida unemployment system collapse.
“Nobody responded to all these cries for help,” Lavette Gulley, owner of Serenity Companion Service Inc., told WUFT.
The report said the state considers “all available recourse options” to punish Sunshine Health.
That’s a proper response, of course. But what about the children, families and health care providers whose lives and livelihoods depended on those executives to do their jobs? How will they be compensated for that?