Florida legislators will sign off on spending $360 million in emergency funds to help pay for the rapidly escalating cost to respond to Hurricane Ian, the deadly storm that ripped into the state a week ago.
Legislative leaders are calling for a special meeting of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission on Oct. 12 to approve the transfer of the money into a special emergency fund set up this year to quickly pay for the costs of natural disasters.
Lawmakers had already placed $500 million into the fund, but now they are being forced to put additional money into the “Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund.” Some of the extra money will be used for a $50 million emergency bridge-loan program designed to assist small businesses and agricultural producers.
According to Florida’s Long Range Financial Outlook, the state has more than $17 billion in reserves built up over the last two years due to a combination of billions in federal aid and an economy that quickly recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While you pray they never come your way, disasters like Hurricane Ian are exactly what we had in mind when we set aside historic state reserves,” Senate President Wilton Simpson said in a prepared statement, crediting the Legislature for having the wisdom to establish the Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls added “our hearts and prayers go out to the residents who lost so much in this storm, their homes, their belongings and, devastatingly, their loved ones. Together, we will rebuild and remain ready for whatever comes.”
Hurricane Ian, which hit the state with near-Category 5 winds, has required a massive response from state, local and federal emergency officials after the storm slammed into communities such as Fort Myers Beach with a massive storm surge that flattened houses and removed huge chunks of bridges connecting barrier islands to the mainland.
The storm also brought widespread flooding across much of the state. The state has orchestrated a mammoth distribution of food and water, but is having to also move quickly to clear roads and begin repairing bridges.
The federal government has already declared Hurricane Ian a major disaster, a move that allows people to apply for individual assistance — and guarantees a higher reimbursement rate to the state. But the state has had to dip into its own accounts for the first wave of recovery efforts.
Senate President-designate Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker-designate Paul Renner also released statements on the move.
“Releasing additional emergency response funds in support of the tremendous recovery and rebuilding efforts Gov. (Ron) DeSantis is leading will help fund key relief that directly benefits struggling Floridians,” Passidomo said.
“I continue to be inspired by the sense of community I am witnessing each and every day. This is a difficult time for all impacted, but I have great faith in the strong and resilient people of Southwest Florida, and I know we will pull through this together.”
Renner, meanwhile, said the money will ensure more resources are immediately available to aid in the state’s recovery.
“We stand united in our prayers and commitment to everyone affected by this devastating storm,” Renner said. “We will remain laser-focused in support of the historic response efforts over the months ahead as Floridians continue to recover.”