Hurricane Michael Relief Bill Unveiled by Florida State Lawmakers

State Sen. George Gainer said local governments could be waiting years for reimbursements from FEMA and wants to make sure they're taken care of in the meantime.

by Patrick McCreless, The News Herald, Panama City, Fla. / March 7, 2019

(TNS) — Florida state lawmakers unveiled a comprehensive bill on Thursday for Hurricane Michael recovery that includes money for local affordable housing development and infrastructure repair.

Sponsored by Sen. George Gainer, R-Panama City, the bipartisan bill is promised to be the first in a wave of legislation to support relief in the Panhandle from the Category 4 storm. The main goal of the bill is to make sure local governments have recovery money while they wait for federal reimbursement, and to help with repairing and building more affordable housing for those most in need.

"Northwest Florida has not been forgotten. Period," Gainer said.

Members of the Bay County Commission and Greg Brudnicki, mayor of Panama City, gathered with Gainer and several other republican and democratic state senators and representatives outside the Senate chambers in support of the legislation during a Thursday press conference.

"I think the main thing for me was my fear that we were going to be forgotten by the state level and possibly the federal level," Brudnicki said. "This bill exemplifies all the senators and legislators working together on both sides of the aisle and knowing we're hurting."

Gainer said the legislation was the first step in supporting the recovery, adding that he expects several more hurricane relief bills would be introduced in the coming weeks.

Gainer said local governments could be waiting years for reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and wants to make sure they're taken care of in the meantime.

"I don't want to see any of these counties and small cities stuck with a lot of debt," Gainer said.

The bill would allocate $300 million from non-recurring revenues to provide public facility repair loans to eligible cities, counties and district school boards.

The legislation calls for an appropriation of money to help support the affordable housing recovery efforts by local governments. The bill would also direct money to build additional rental housing to replace impacted affordable housing stock.

Besides money allocation, the bill would create a task force as part of the Division of Emergency Management to review local, state and federal recovery activities and recommend any additional assistance needed to the Legislature.

"We'll put together a task force to decide which of these projects will be prioritized," Gainer said, referring to the many hurricane relief funding requests his office and others had already received.

Robert Carroll, county commissioner, said he appreciated legislators' quick work on hurricane recovery.

"I'm thankful that legislators so early in the session are talking about it," Carroll said. "I'm glad it's moving forward."

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