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The federal government will play a significant role in the recovery from Hurricane Ian.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) already deployed Urban Search and Rescue teams and established missing person databases. Coast Guard cutters immediately set about helping those trapped on barrier islands after the storm last week took out bridge access to Sanibel and Pine Island.
Resources for the Department of Defense, Customs and Border Patrol and other federal agencies with assets in Florida have been busy with recovery since the storm made landfall last Tuesday.
And that’s not even counting the forecasts issued by the National Hurricane Center while Ian stayed a tropical disturbance in the Atlantic Ocean.
As of Sunday, more than 100 FEMA Disaster Survivor Assistance Team staff members had already set up in hard-hit counties in Florida to help survivors immediately apply for aid directly from the federal government and to identify immediate and emerging threats.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell visited damage sites with local officials in the state.
“I had an opportunity to join Gov. Ron DeSantis to survey some of the damage that have an impact in this part of the state,” she said after touring Lee County, where the storm made landfall. “What we’re seeing is devastating damage and we know that there’s going to be a lot of needs for this recovery process.”
She said the full force of the Joe Biden administration would be behind the state as it bounces back. “We know that this is going to be a very complicated and complex recovery,” she said. “We want to make sure that we have the right resources to take the opportunity to join you today so I can see firsthand what some of the needs are and for our recovery and response personnel with me to make sure that we are bringing the right resources to support the Governor’s needs.”
On Sept. 29, Biden declared a major disaster area in nine counties: Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Hardee, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pinellas and Sarasota. The next day, he added Orange, Osceola, Polk and Seminole counties to those eligible for FEMA aid. Later, Flagler, Putnam, St. Johns and Volusia counties were added to the list.
Of note, federal funding is available in all Florida counties for debris removal and emergency protective measures at 100% of the total eligible costs for a period of 30 days.
“I’ve directed that every possible action be taken to save lives and get help to survivors, because every single minute counts,” Biden said.
And there’s been notable, outward cooperation between Biden and DeSantis, potential 2024 political rivals, as the administrations both pursue a robust recovery.
“It’s not just a crisis for Florida. This is an American crisis,” Biden said. “We’re all in this together.”
Biden will come to Florida Wednesday to survey the damage personally. Meanwhile, Florida’s congressional delegation has turned its attention to helping constituents in hard-hit areas, even as a General Election looms.
Stormy budget vote
The Myakka River hadn’t finished rising when Hurricane Ian began whipping up a storm of politicized arguments over funding hurricane relief efforts.
That’s because a continuing resolution was necessary Friday to keep the government running. And even though the Florida congressional delegation joined together in asking Biden to make individual federal disaster relief available in all 67 counties, and not just the current 17, all of Florida’s Republican Representatives voted against Friday’s continuing resolution.
That prompted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Weston Democrat, to fire off a news release slamming her Republican colleagues. Ten Republicans voted with the Democratic majority Friday to support the continuing resolution, but none were from Florida.
“Today, Florida’s U.S. House Republicans failed every family still reeling in our state who will soon need the federal government’s full strength and resources to rebuild and recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Ian,” a statement from the Weston Democrat’s Office read. “Florida Congressional Republicans not only failed every family reeling from the punch Hurricane Ian just landed in our state, but they just slapped away every American who reaches for a helping hand in a tragic time of need.”
But Republicans say it’s not the hurricane aid — it’s what is behind the continuing resolution. Republican Rep. Brian Mast clapped right back, calling Wasserman Schultz’s move an attempt to score “cheap political points” off a disaster, and criticizing Florida Senate Democratic Minority Leader Lauren Book for making similar attacks.
“It’s disgusting that Democrats like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz and Lauren Book are trying to politicize Hurricane Ian deaths with outright lies and misleading accusations,” a statement from the Stuart Republican’s Office said.
“The bill they are attempting to grandstand off included no resources dedicated specifically to Florida disaster relief. It was funding for the entire government until mid-December at the same unsustainably high levels that have caused massive inflation.”
Mast, like Rep. Michael Waltz, expressed the hope a supplemental bill for Hurricane Ian will bring federal money to Florida for rebuilding.
Party power plays
Republican Sen. Rick Scott also voted against the continuing resolution — earning a drubbing on Twitter. But his office said it all makes sense, given the Senator’s stance on continuing resolutions.
“Prior to Ian’s development, I made clear that I fully supported the proposed disaster funding for other states and urged (Senate Majority Leader) Sen. Chuck Schumer to put that up for a stand-alone vote. He refused and delayed this relief so he could use it as a political weapon to stick it in a CR that will end up fueling billions for Democrats’ radical agenda right before they lose power.”
Waltz pointed out that FEMA is in no danger of shutting down as it has a $10 million fund.
“The Democrats’ refusal to pass an on-time federal budget and reliance on CRs is fiscally irresponsible and gives our military, including services that carry out search, rescue, and humanitarian efforts after natural disasters, limited resources,” Waltz said.
“The Democrats’ refusal to pass an on-time federal budget and reliance on CRs is fiscally irresponsible.”
Meanwhile, Florida’s other Senator, Republican Marco Rubio, was not present at the continuing resolution vote. That’s because he was home watching the storm. Plus, he didn’t want hurricane recovery aid to Florida mixed up with other issues.
Still, his stance on the Sunday morning talk shows became an opening for his rival, Democratic Rep. Val Demings, who’s looking to unseat him from the Senate.
“Floridians deserve better than a Senator who says he’d vote against Hurricane Ian relief,” Demings tweeted.
Rubio’s office said that tweet proves that Demings will use Hurricane Ian as an excuse to push her “radical agenda.”
“She should be asked: Why does Congresswoman Demings want a package loaded with unrelated spending instead of targeted, hurricane-specific aid for Florida? And which items on Democrats’ radical agenda does she want to see included in a hurricane relief package?” a statement from Rubio’s office read.
Floridians deserve better than a Senator who says he’d vote against Hurricane Ian relief. pic.twitter.com/ridIPCTZ7O
— Val Demings (@valdemings) October 3, 2022
Biden also declared a state of emergency for the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which came following a letter from Rubio and Scott seeking action. The letter from the Senators followed a request from Seminole Chair Marcellus W. Osceola Jr., similar to one from DeSantis seeking aid for Florida counties. The status means Tribe members across the state are now eligible to apply for disaster relief.
“The historic hurricane has left a devastating path of destruction across the State of Florida, and the full extent of damage is only just beginning to be documented,” reads the letter from the Senators. “Upon making landfall as a Category-4 storm, Major Hurricane Ian severely impacted Seminole Tribal lands, most notably the Brighton, Big Cypress, and Immokalee Seminole Indian Reservations, and caused substantial damage to utilities, residential and commercial structures, and roadways with flooding and significant debris. Approving this declaration request will facilitate the recovery phase in the aftermath of Major Hurricane Ian and will provide the Seminole Tribe of Florida the assistance necessary to recover and rebuild.”
Biden also has made aid available for the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.
Rubio also met with Collier County officials in Everglades City to discuss the specific needs of the Southwest Florida community. Everglades City lies in southern Collier, one of the closest areas to the Miami Republican’s Miami-Dade home that felt severe impacts from flooding.
The visit followed a letter from Rubio to the Senate Appropriations Committee seeking support for a disaster supplemental budget item.
“Hurricane Ian will be remembered and studied as one of the most devastating hurricanes to hit the United States. Communities across Florida have been completely destroyed, and lives have been forever changed. A robust and timely federal response, including through supplemental programs and funding, will be required to ensure that sufficient resources are provided to rebuild critical infrastructure and public services capacity, and to assist our fellow Floridians in rebuilding their lives. These provisions must be made a priority and considered at the earliest opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Scott, a resident of the Gulf Coast, toured numerous sites in Lee and Collier and helped hand out food and water as part of immediate relief efforts. The Naples Republican could be spotted at a Convoy of Hope event at the First Assembly of God or with lineman responding to power outages.
“Thank you to all the line crews doing incredibly dangerous work to restore power as quickly as possible to Florida’s families,” he tweeted with a video of downed lines. “Fallen trees and downed power lines are just some obstacles they face as they work day and night to restore our power.”
He traveled a little farther to visit sites in Osceola County, where low-lying areas suffered flooding, and stopped by emergency operations centers in Lee, Charlotte and Osceola counties.
The Senator and former Governor said it’s critical Floridians have as direct access as possible now to FEMA resources directly.
“I’m fighting to ensure Florida’s families and communities get every resource needed to respond to and recover from Ian,” he tweeted.
Thank you to all the line crews doing incredibly dangerous work to restore power as quickly as possible to Florida's families.
Fallen trees and downed power lines are just some obstacles they face as they work day and night to restore our power. pic.twitter.com/8upE3zKKSY
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) October 3, 2022
Demings suggested this week that the Florida Legislature should reconvene in the aftermath of Ian to address Florida’s growing insurance crisis. The Legislature earlier this year already held a Special Session, but critics say Florida lawmakers only granted industry wishes and did little to reduce rates or even stabilize markets.
“Florida families are hurting, the property insurance system is crumbling, and homeowners are paying the price, literally,” she said. “As the daughter of a maid and a janitor, I saw how hard my parents worked for their home and their property. With Hurricane Ian dealing a heavy blow to Florida communities it is critical that leaders across our state come together without delay and take unified action to shore up Citizens and ensure that our insurance system can withstand this storm.”
That comes as Demings challenges Rubio for his Senate seat. But this move also seemed to offer grounds to criticize DeSantis, who faces former delegation member Charlie Crist on the same statewide ballot as Rubio and Demings.
“Short-term patches and band-aids during election years are not sufficient to protect Florida’s homeowners. In Congress, we are working to reduce costs for Florida’s homeowners, and I’ve co-sponsored federal legislation to shore up the insurance market, but this crisis is fundamentally a state issue,” she said. “I call on the Governor and state legislature to hold an emergency session to implement state-level reforms to stand up for Florida families. Our response to this storm must go beyond sandbags and plywood — we owe it to Florida families to build an insurance system that is accessible and affordable.”
Regardless of party, members found themselves fielding thousands of calls for help after the Category 4 made landfall in Lee County and cut across the state to the Space Coast.
Rep. Darren Soto could be spotted at Red Cross shelters in Osceola County, where flooding forced many from their own homes after the storm passed. “This shelter will stay open to help people in need. Those in need of sandbags can go to Osceola Heritage Park,” he informed residents via social media. He also led a bipartisan letter to Biden asking the FEMA “provide support to all individuals whose lives have been affected by this hurricane.”
Rep. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, toured facilities in DeSoto County, along with Rubio, to keep rural Florida served after being struck by winds and flood. Through this weekend, nearly all of neighboring Hardee County remained without power, and deployed National Guard carefully guarded flooded roads throughout much of the region. “Rescues are still ongoing to get Floridians out of majorly flooded areas in DeSoto,” Steube tweeted. Please continue sending prayers for all families impacted by this devastating storm.”
And in the hardest hit part of the state, Southwest Florida’s representatives managed resources, made requests to the government and simply sought out help from residents of the state and country.
“Please continue to pray for my district and members of my Congressional District staff who suffered unimaginable damage to their homes and livelihoods,” tweeted Rep. Byron Donalds, a Naples Republican. “We will get through this together and be stronger than ever.”
Small town success
While not directly related to Ian, the storm made the House passage of a bill championed by Clermont Republican Daniel Webster all the more poignant. The Small Project Efficient and Effective Disaster (SPEED) Recovery Act (HR 5641) passed with Senate amendments.
If it becomes law, the legislation will reduce bureaucracy and expedite federal funding for small projects during disaster recovery, particularly in rural areas.
“The passage of this legislation could not come at a more critical time,” Webster said. “I’ve heard from communities in my district about the paperwork burdens and increasing denials over technicalities, and I hope the commonsense adjustments in this bill will improve the process. With Hurricane Ian making landfall in Florida, it’s vital that our disaster recovery efforts deliver expedited relief to communities in need.”
The bill rewrites the definition of a small project under the Stafford Act as under $1 million, allowing for 90% reimbursements on anything under that threshold.
“The SPEED Recovery Act will streamline the process to provide Floridians, particularly those in rural communities with small projects, with speedier disaster recovery assistance.”
Meanwhile, the regular business of Washington went ahead.
A prisoner swap negotiated by the Biden administration in South America generated fresh disagreement in Florida’s Senate race. Demings praised a prisoner swap made to bring Americans home from imprisonment in Venezuela in exchange for two family members related to President Nicolás Maduro’s wife.
But Rubio slammed the deal.
“Biden released two convicted drug dealer nephews of Venezuela dictator Maduro in exchange for seven innocent Americans being held hostage,” Rubio tweeted. “Another Biden appeasement that will result in more anti-U. S. dictators taking more innocent Americans hostage in the future.”
Demings, however, cheered action that would bring Americans, some kept imprisoned for more than five years, back to U.S. soil.
“I am thankful for the release of the seven Americans, including a Floridian, wrongfully detained in Venezuela,” she tweeted. “In the Senate, I will remain steadfast in my support to bring home those who are unlawfully detained by Maduro and his thugs.”
Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch resigned from Congress, marking an early end to his congressional career after more than 12 years in the House.
Deutch had announced his decision against seeking re-election in February and had planned to resign when the House recessed for the coming election to become the CEO of the American Jewish Committee.
With the close of business Friday, the House expects to be in recess until mid-November.
“As I leave these storied halls for the last time, it is serving you — my neighbors, friends and constituents — that I will miss most of all,” Deutch wrote in his resignation letter. “It has been the honor of my life to serve the South Florida community and the American people in Congress.”
And on his last day of work, he managed to get a send-off from Biden. In a White House ceremony, the President called out Deutch by name. “Don’t go; change your mind,” Biden said in jest.
“We’re going to miss you pal, we really are,” Biden continued. “We’ll miss you in Congress. We’ve worked really closely for a long time. I look forward to your leadership with the American Jewish Committee.
China just bought a lot of U.S. farmland, and Miami Republican Carlos Giménez wants to know if seeds of espionage may be planted. The Miami Republican led a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack about the acquisition of North Dakota property by the Fefung Group of Shandong.
“At a time when the United States is engaged in great power competition with China, we must utilize every tool at our disposal to protect and defend the integrity of our military and national security, maintain military dominance, and maximize our global military readiness,” reads the letter from Giménez.
A total of 50 Republicans in the House co-signed, including Kat Cammack, Mario Díaz-Balart, Donalds, Scott Franklin, Mast, Bill Posey, John Rutherford, María Elvira Salazar, Steube and Waltz.
Ballard at arms
Stephen Klopp, the former Assistant Sergeant-at-Arms for the Senate, joined Ballard Partners in its Washington office.
“As our D.C. office continues to grow, Stephen’s extensive experience on Capitol Hill brings a unique, invaluable perspective that will greatly benefit our clients,” said Brian Ballard, president and founder of Ballard Partners. “We are honored to have him on our team.”
Klopp previously served in the Capitol Police, including as a Special Agent in Charge and Detail Leader for the United States Capitol Police Dignitary Protection Division, where he oversaw details with Congressional leadership.
“I am thrilled to join Brian and his exceptional team in Washington,” he said.
The Veterans Affairs Department just named David B. Isaacks as director for the Sunshine Healthcare Network, starting Oct. 9. The network serves Florida, as well as Georgia, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
“We are excited to bring Mr. Isaacks on board as the new director of VISN 8,” said RimaAnn Nelson, assistant undersecretary for Health for Operations at the VA. “His sound leadership qualities and proven experience will be valuable assets for the health care network, the employees, and volunteers, and most importantly, for the Veterans we are honored to serve.”
Some Florida veterans may be familiar with Isaacks. He has served since July 2021 as executive health system director of the North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System. He also has worked in the VA in St. Petersburg.
The veteran Marine will lead the Sunshine Healthcare Network out of its office in St. Petersburg, where he will oversee seven health care networks with eight large medical centers, more than 60 outpatient clinics and seven community living centers.
On this day
Oct. 4, 1957 — “Sputnik launched by Soviet Union” via History.com — The Soviet Union inaugurated the “Space Age” with its launch of the world’s first artificial satellite. The spacecraft, named Sputnik after the Russian word for “fellow traveler,” was launched from the Tyuratam launch base in the Kazakh Republic. Visible with binoculars before sunrise or after sunset, Sputnik transmitted radio signals back to Earth strong enough to be picked up by amateur radio operators. Those in the United States with access to such equipment tuned in and listened in awe as the beeping Soviet spacecraft passed over America several times a day.
Oct. 4, 1636 — “Plymouth Colony institutes legal code” via the Library of Congress — The General Court of the Plymouth Colony instituted a legal code, the first composed in North America. It guaranteed citizens a trial by jury and stipulated all laws were to be made with the consent of the freemen of the colony. The Plymouth Colony was founded by Pilgrims, Protestant dissenters from the Church of England who fled their native country in search of religious freedom. After a brief sojourn in Holland, they sailed for North America on the Mayflower arriving at Plymouth Rock in December 1620.
Delegation is published by Peter Schorsch and compiled by Jacob Ogles, edited and assembled by Phil Ammann and Ryan Nicol, with contributions by Anne Geggis.