More than 17,000 youths in and around the Big Bend area where Hurricane Idalia struck last month will be able to enjoy fully paid-for health coverage through Halloween, according to the Florida Health Kids Corp.
The state-created nonprofit, which administers the Florida KidCare umbrella health insurance program, agreed to pay 100% of eligible monthly premium payments for September.
That relief will also be available in October for those who contact the organization and express a need.
Eligible families must reside in one of 16 counties the Federal Emergency Management Agency designated as eligible for individual assistance and be enrolled in subsidized or full-pay Florida KidCare plans.
“Families impacted by Hurricane Idalia area facing a long road to recovery,” Florida Health Kids Corp. Chair Stephanie Haridopolos said in a statement Wednesday. “I hope by providing this relief, parents have peace of mind knowing their children have health coverage. As Floridians, we’ve all been through the post-storm stress at one time or another, and it’s important that we rally together in times of need.”
The organization estimates the relief will total $961,000 in September. It is available to covered families with children up to age 18 in Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Manatee Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota, Suwannee and Taylor counties.
Florida KidCare is also expediting enrollment for approved applicants, giving members 30 extra days to complete annual renewals and granting members the full month to pay premiums typically due by the first of the month.
Idalia made landfall in the Big Bend region — where the Panhandle curves into Florida’s peninsula — near Keaton Beach minutes before 8 a.m. Aug. 30 at Category 3 strength, bringing maximum sustained winds of 125 mph and up to 9-foot storm surges in some areas.
The storm was the strongest to strike the area in more than 125 years, decimating rural communities like the fishing communities of Horseshoe Beach and Steinhatchee. It took nine days for utility workers to fully restore power in affected areas.
In addition to health insurance relief, Florida officials have extended food assistance support. On Tuesday, the Department of Children and Families announced it would begin implementing the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) beginning Sept. 25 for qualifying low-income families in 11 counties.