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FL Senators Check In On Hurricane Spending

Hurricane Maria approaching Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Maria approaching Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Maria approaching Puerto Rico.
Credit NOAA
Hurricane Maria approaching Puerto Rico.

Florida Senate lawmakers are wary of Governor Rick Scott spending emergency dollars in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  A Puerto Rican state senator is urging lawmakers to prepare for evacuees.

Orlando Democrat Victor Torres was moved to tears in a Senate appropriations hearing describing the conditions in Puerto Rico.

“Millions of Americans who are suffering daily, like my uncle—mi tio—due to lack of basic human needs,” Torres says.  “Members of this committee today, I ask you for appropriate action as if it was your family members who were suffering in the same circumstances.”

Senate budget chief Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) is quick to point out lawmakers don’t oppose offering assistance—they just want to be involved in the decision. 

Torres has visited the island twice in recent weeks and says pictures can’t convey the level of destruction.  State officials say the number of people arriving and requesting aid at emergency assistance centers has jumped from four or five hundred a day to a thousand.

Meanwhile communities, particularly in South Florida, are still picking up the pieces after Hurricane Irma, and Latvala wants to get a handle on how much the storm will cost the state.  

Division of Emergency Management Interim Director Wes Maul says right now the federal government is covering 75 percent of costs—but those matching funds could jump to 90 percent.

“One thing to note is that the state is actively pushing for the 90-10 cost share storm designation from FEMA,” Maul says.  “FEMA guidelines allow for this designation at a cumulative $2.7 billion threshold.  We believe we’ve passed this threshold already.”

Under the existing 75-25 split, Maul says the state share of recovery costs is already 180 million dollars and rising.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency earlier agreed to cover 100 percent of certain preparation costs and 90 percent of debris removal.

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