|Date:||April 19, 2019|
TALLAHASSEE — As Hurricane Michael entered the record books with a rare Category 5 ranking, Florida Republicans and Democrats vented their fury over a lack of aid from Washington, calling the storm's reclassification further proof of the Panhandle's dire need for financial assistance. "This reclassification to a [Category] 5 quite frankly comes at a good time for us pushing for more money," state Sen. Bill Montford (D-Tallahassee) told POLITICO. The National Hurricane Center, after a detailed assessment found that Hurricane Michael winds had hit 160 miles per hour, on Friday reclassified the storm to a rare Category 5, the highest ranking on the Saffir-Simpson scale, which measures the potential for damage and loss of life. Many state leaders said the reclassification confirmed what they already knew — that Michael was a devastating storm and the federal assistance currently hung up in Congress is sorely needed. A disaster relief bill in Congress collapsed on April 9 after Republicans and Democrats disagreed on how much aid to provide for Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria in 2017. While most Florida officials have directed their ire at Congress, some from the Panhandle, including Montford, have said the state also needs to do more to help the region. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida's only statewide elected Democrat, asked why Congress has taken so long to provide assistance to the region.
"This Category 5 designation should make our state eligible for additional federal disaster aid, for which Floridians continue to patiently wait — but time is running out," Fried said in a news release. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) said on Twitter: "Congress must approve disaster relief ASAP." Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said disaster funding can't be delayed any longer. "The Panhandle is strong, but they need help," he tweeted. Former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, a Democrat, said anyone who had seen Michael's devastation already knew the storm's fury. "OKAY Federal and State officials, it is past time to provide the disaster declaration and resources the communities in North Florida should receive," Graham tweeted. "NO MORE WORDS. GET IT DONE," she said. Gov. Ron DeSantis said he received a call from NOAA acting administrator Neil Jacobs telling him the hurricane would be upgraded. "I will continue to fight for Northwest Florida as our state rebuilds," the governor wrote on Twitter. Montford, a Senate committee chairman, earlier this week withdrew a request in FL SB1610 (19R) for $315 million to set up loan programs to help local governments pay for storm damage. He said he still hopes to get funding during budget negotiations between the House and Senate, but said it's difficult to put a dollar amount on the region's financial needs. "We can't sit back and let our people suffer because Washington can't do its job," Montford said. "Is there more of a role for state government? Yes. If the federal government won't do it, who will? Local government can't do it. They don't have the means to address this issue." The Senate budget proposal currently includes $220 million for storm damage to local buildings and storm water systems, Senate spokesperson Katie Betta said. An additional $1.6 billion in emergency funds for Hurricane Michael, most of it for debris removal, has been allocated outside the General Appropriations Act.