TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WFLA) – As lawmakers return to the state Capitol for the first round of committee weeks, one of the most pressing issues is hurricane recovery, especially from Hurricane Michael.
Effects from the storm, which hit nearly a year ago, are still ravaging the panhandle.
In many ways, the panhandle has lived up to its nickname, ‘The Forgotten Coast’.
A survey conducted this summer found one out of three Floridians aren’t even aware the storm hit in 2018.
“We can’t afford to forget,” said Senator Bill Montford.
Montford represents multiple counties that continue to feel Michael’s impacts.
“Now that the Federal Government has acted we’ve got to see where the state can fill in. To fill in some holes, if you will. Housing, ag, just jobs themselves. So we do have a roll, the state does,” said Montford.
The state is forecasting it will have $800 million less over the next two years than previously expected.
However, Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley said a tight budget won’t prevent the Legislature from addressing the needs in the panhandle.
“That storm may have been forgotten in other parts of the country, but it is front and center on our minds,” said Bradley.
It’s not only dollars that lawmakers have to offer to the panhandle.
Legislators also are looking at ways to speed up insurance claims and prevent contractors from overcharging for storm repairs.
Senator George Gainer from Panama City said delayed insurance payments contributed to Bay county losing almost 20 percent of its population after the storm.
“A claim ought to be up or down within a year. A year’s a long time to wait and it’s very expensive trying to find a place you can live in the meantime,” said Gainer.
In addition, Senator Gainer said he hopes to introduce legislation that could improve cell phone communications after a storm hits.
Senators we spoke with also emphasized the need to help the timber industry, which took a huge hit during Michael.
While lawmakers are committed to continuing support for the panhandle this upcoming legislative session, it will likely be decades before the area is fully recovered.