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Florida officials awaiting word on depleted FEMA disaster account

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(The Center Square) — As Florida moves through its peak hurricane season, answers are still waiting for questions surrounding appropriate funding for disaster relief.

In July, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Administrator Deanne Criswell testified in front of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Emergency Management and Technology that the budget for the Disaster Relief Fund would be spent by the end of August.

According to FEMA’s July 2023 report on the Disaster Relief Fund, by September the agency will be running at a $4.8 billion deficit.

Since the report was published on August 8, wildfires have ravaged Hawaii, and, according to a report from Moody’s Analytics, early estimates show the economic losses to Maui are between $4 billion and $6 billion.

Florida’s U.S. senators, Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, have both asked for the Disaster Relief Fund Replenishment Act — which was introduced in June and would have provided $11.5 billion in disaster relief — to become a priority for the Biden administration after concerns were raised about dwindling funds.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported a record-breaking number of costly disasters struck the U.S. in 2023. From January to July 2023, there were 15 individual disaster events, all with losses more than $1 billion.

After Hurricanes Ian and Nicole hit the Sunshine State in September and October of 2022, communities and businesses still struggle to fully rebuild. The storms combined have an estimated rebuild cost of up to $47 billion.

FEMA reported in Dec. 2022 that it had provided the state of Florida and households more than $3.3 billion in federal grants, disaster loans and flood insurance payments to “jump-start” the recovery from Hurricane Ian. The July FEMA report shows that pre-disaster mitigation funds were between $3.9 billion and $4.5 billion monthly.

However, while the Federal government flounders, Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed off on the state’s “Framework For Freedom” budget, which includes $1.4 billion for the state’s Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund.

The General Appropriations Act also includes $425.2 million for Ian and Nicole rebuilding efforts and $335.5 million for hurricane response and recovery funding.

The budget also allows a 14-day Disaster Preparedness sales tax holiday for Florida residents, which state officials say will households around $27 million.

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