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Feds provide more funds for Irma relief

By Staff | Aug 20, 2019

Lee County is in line for more Hurricane Irma relief, as Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that the state has hit the threshold to increase the federal cost share for the 2017 storm from 75 to 90%, saving the county $2.7 million and over $150 million throughout the state.

DeSantis made this announcement Monday morning at the Lee County Emergency Operations Center in Fort Myers surrounded by lawmakers at the state and local levels.

“Recently, Florida has hit the cumulative damage mark to get a 90% cost share for Hurricane Irma,” said DeSantis. “Today I’m announcing that I formally sent the letter requesting (90% cost share) to the White House.”

DeSantis said that when states reach the aforementioned obligation threshold — $2.63 billion in FEMA reimbursement dollars — it is quite likely the president will oblige to the request.

“That 90% cost share will represent about $150 million in relief for communities effected by Hurricane Irma,” said DeSantis. “The damage the storm caused was catastrophic and widespread, ultimately effecting every county in our state. When we came into office in January, we made a commitment to every community that had been impacted by these hurricanes, that we would do everything we could to help with an effective recovery.”

Nearly, if not every county, city or town in Florida felt the physical and financial burden of Irma. Some are still waiting for compensation which their community depends on.

“Some of the smaller municipalities would have debris costs that outstripped their entire operating budget, so to be able to have the federal reimbursement is a really big deal,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis, along with Jared Moskowitz, of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said they took a proactive approach to getting municipalities state-wide the reimbursement they need.

“When communities got hit with the clean-up and the costs — because money wasn’t flowing fast enough, you had cities and counties depleting their reserves, or taking loans out,” said Moskowicz.

DeSantis praised him for getting Florida to the 90% mark, as Moskowicz worked to get the obligations on the record rather than sitting on their hands waiting to reach the threshold needed.

“Proactively working with the communities means we’re here way earlier than we were previously,” DeSantis said.

Moskowicz said this is money back in people’s budgets and the state’s budget, and he said he looks forward to getting out additional dollars to those still waiting.

“The faster (FEMA) get(s) me the money obligated, the faster I can get it out to our applicants, and that partnership is kind of the reason why we are here today,” Moskowicz said. “In the past six months, we have been able to get out a half a billion dollars for Hurricane Irma recipients.”

Brian Hamman, chair of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners, said he is grateful to see the state working for the people and to remember that despite a quiet season thus far, we’re certainly not out of the woods.

“On behalf of the Board of County Commissioners, we’re just grateful for the help from the federal government and our legislators up in Tallahassee — many of them were actually here in the Emergency Operation Center during Hurricane Irma — they saw on the ground first hand the damage and the devastation and then they went back to Tallahassee to work for us,” Hamman said.

He went on to note that Lee County is working on broadening its shelters and providing more facilities to those who may not be able to evacuate.

Hamman’s message to the residents of Lee County was to just stay prepared.

“We’re preparing for the next storm,” Hamman said in the EOC, where there are over 100 work stations for people responding to emergency scenarios. “We ask you to do the same. A lot of our hurricanes; Charlie hit in August, Irma hit in September, Michael even hit in October. Now’s the time to stay on your game and be ready for the next hurricane.”

DeSantis and Moskowicz may be hoping for some divine intervention for Florida this year. While on a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem earlier in the year, they both said their prayer slip of paper that they placed into the wall was for no hurricanes to strike Florida this season.

Time will tell.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj