FORT MYERS, Fla. (WFLA) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Department of Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie spoke in Fort Myers Thursday morning. The two officials were in Fort Myers to deliver relief funding for victims of Hurricane Ian, announcing millions of dollars in aid.
DeSantis said there were multiple announcements coming for the event, but first said that he intended to grind down red tape and get money out faster for those in need.
“It’s been 112 days,” since Hurricane Ian, but “the Florida Department of Emergency Management has obligated more than $500 million in funding, so a half a billion dollars,” DeSantis said. “So what does that mean? There’s been no major hurricane in Florida’s history where at this point, 112 days after, even $1 had been obligated.”
The governor said this showed that the state was responding at a better pace than in the past, and that FDEM had more to give going forward.
“I think time is money, I think quicker, I think having money on the target today is better than having slightly more money on it a year from now,” DeSantis said. “I think that’s just the reality.”
As a result of the $500 million allocated, DeSantis said the state had qualified for an additional $100 million for further recovery in Southwest Florida.
He also said that the state was focusing now on housing solutions for those impacted by Hurricane Ian, and that the state had found homeowners facing damage would rather have trailers on their residential property rather than living in “mobile home cities, where people all live there.”
While housing needs after a storm are “normally FEMA’s mission,” DeSantis said Florida launched it’s own program, to “get in front” even while the Federal Emergency Management Agency worked to continue providing housing options.
“FEMA is still doing, but we’ve been able to get out in front and get more trailers. FEMA has deployed maybe about 80 travel trailers, the state has deployed 140, but we have a lot more in the hopper, that Kevin is working to get out here,” DeSantis said, referring to FDEM Director Guthrie. “Let’s get rid of more red tape.”
DeSantis said Florida had ordered 2,400 trailers ordered, but that the state would need to work with other levels of government to continue the mission.
“Hopefully we’re in a healthy competition with FEMA to deploy as many trailers as quickly as possible, and I think that will serve the citizens down here very, very good,” DeSantis said, promising to do more. Then he turned to the disaster fund and its contributions to recovery efforts, which he said was an effort led by First Lady Casey DeSantis.
Then, DeSantis promised $1 million to teachers in Southwest Florida who were impacted by Hurricane Ian, spreading the funds across multiple counties. He said it’ll help with everything from food and gas needs to childcare for hurricane victims.
Additionally, he announced money from the Department of Children and Families would be delivered as well, and that DCF had provided 120,000 meals to infants and toddlers, delivered toys to 1,000 children, and given crisis counseling to those struggling after the storm, including a call line for connecting victims of Hurricane Ian to residents impacted by Hurricane Michael to offer support.
Building off of that success, DeSantis said the state was awarding $13 million for crisis counseling and mental health support to victims, as well as expanding services for survivors who were still in need.
After presenting the check, Guthrie spoke to those gathered. He thanked DeSantis for his support and leadership after the hurricane, and praised the First Lady’s relief efforts.
“As you all well know, in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Ian, we knew that temporary shelter and housing were going to be two of the biggest needs of survivors,” Guthrie said. “Based on the division’s previous experience with the FEMA trailer program, I went to the governor and we started exploring the possibility of creating Florida’s own temporary housing program” to help those who didn’t qualify for the federal version.
Guthrie said there were now options for 26 counties able to receive aid from the state’s six month program, while the FEMA version was currently assisting in six. Thursday, Guthrie said he had requested approval from FEMA to put the trailers in floodways and asking to negotiate a solution for survivors in Southwest Florida, but said there were other obstacles.
“There is no uniformity at the local levels, on timelines, permits, inspections, required documentation, and so on, within any individual jurisdiction,” Guthrie said. “Today, we have 411 people waiting to go into a congregated group site. Today, we have 103 individuals that could go into a house today, pending some type of site inspection at the local, municipal, or county level.”
Guthrie said there were also 33 waiting on utility inspections, 45 permits pending from the local government to handle, and that the bureaucracy needed to be cut through. After Guthrie, several victims of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers spoke, detailing their experience during the recovery stage.
Afterward, DeSantis came back to the podium saying that the state needed to get the permitting process moving faster.
At the start of the Fort Myers event, DeSantis said Florida was acting because of how slow the federal government is to address issues, pointing to an ongoing migrant crisis in the Florida Keys and the needs of the U.S. Coast Guard as an example.
The governor praised the state’s surplus, saying it was owed to better fiscal management in Florida than in other parts of the country. He also compared Florida’s debt level to the federal government’s multi-trillion dollar debt.
At the end of the briefing, DeSantis opened up for a question-answer session. Answering a question, DeSantis said it was better to have people put up, even in temporary housing, in their own yard and working on their homes themselves, rather than being in a trailer city while rebuilding was underway.
Guthrie answered a question about the current trailer situation, saying that there were many in storage, saying that they were mobile homes, but that the state was using travel trailers, a distinction between the state program and the FEMA one. He also said the state expected to continue picking up debris in a “labor of love” for as long as nine to 12 months.
DeSantis came back, answering a question about recovery, saying that his administration had done more than any other to harness Florida’s “faith-based community,” and that those efforts had been successful for recovery efforts.
“We’re not discriminating,” DeSantis said. “Some states, they would never give to a church or a synagogue, we will. If you’re doing the work that needs to be done, that’s fulfilling the mission, we would want to be supportive on that end for sure.”
Guthrie continued on that topic, noting that as of five years ago, houses of worship across the U.S. became eligible for reimbursement to receive funds after helping with recovery. He said Florida officials wanted religious organizations to know that they could help with recovery and still qualify for reimbursement on the resources used, but that the window to apply was closing soon.
On Wednesday, DeSantis announced $100 million for beach recovery for victims of Hurricanes Ian and Nicole, impacting 16 coastal counties.