Florida lawmakers to free up more money for Hurricane Ian relief

Legislators will meet next week to release an additional $360 million into the Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund.

Kit Brown paddles his boat in a flooded street near his home in the Jade Isle Mobile Home Park in St. Cloud. Residents of the community were issued a voluntary evacuation order due to rising water levels in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian.

Kit Brown paddles his boat in a flooded street near his home in the Jade Isle Mobile Home Park in St. Cloud. Residents of the community were issued a voluntary evacuation order due to rising water levels in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Photo by Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Florida lawmakers plan to pump more money into a new state disaster-relief fund, which Gov. Ron DeSantis has been running through to speed recovery from Hurricane Ian.

House and Senate leaders announced Wednesday the Joint Legislative Budget Commission will hold an emergency meeting next week to release an additional $360 million into the Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund, which was established this year with $500 million.

“These additional funds will ensure more resources are immediately available to aid in our state’s recovery needs,” incoming House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, said in a prepared statement.

Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, said the emergency money will “fund key response and recovery programs, including the Small Business Emergency Bridge Loan Program, which ensures that vital businesses like Florida’s farms can survive this disaster.”

The commission’s budget item said current obligations for Ian are already approaching the $500 million in the fund.

The announcement of the Oct. 12 meeting came as President Joe Biden on Wednesday extended a period when the federal government will pick up hurricane-recovery costs in 17 counties declared a disaster because of Ian.

Biden later arrived in Fort Myers to conduct an aerial survey of damage from the storm, which made landfall last week in Lee and Charlotte counties and crossed the state.

The extension moves from 30 days to 60 days the period when the federal government will cover 100 percent of costs associated with search and rescue, sheltering and feeding people and other emergency measures.

Meanwhile, DeSantis said Wednesday he will continue to put the state’s budget reserves and disaster fund “to use very quickly” during the recovery.

“I think that’s what people want to see,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Matlacha in Lee County. “Just get this stuff done and move forward.”

Lawmakers this year created the emergency fund as a pool of cash the governor could dip into without having to get approval from the budget commission, which is made up of House and Senate budget leaders and meets periodically. The commission has authority to make mid-year budget decisions.

DeSantis declared an emergency for Ian on Sept. 23, five days before the Category 4 storm made landfall.

Lawmakers initially approved the emergency fund in 2021, but DeSantis vetoed it after questions were raised about using federal stimulus dollars to seed the program. As approved this year, the emergency fund draws money from state general revenue, which is where unused federal stimulus dollars were redirected.

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