Florida lawmakers are considering fixing the backlog in the underfunded home upgrade program

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Window home repair by Niko_Cingaryuk via iStock for WMNF News.

By Jim Turner ©2023 The News Service of Florida

TALLAHASSEE — Talks are ongoing in advance of a special legislative session about how much money would be needed to reduce a backlog of grant applications from Floridians looking to upgrade their homes to help lower insurance premiums.

State Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis on Tuesday wouldn’t say how much money the Department of Financial Services, which he heads, is seeking to address the more than 17,000 applications that await funding or have been submitted as part of the My Safe Florida Home program.

But the program has used most of the $215 million it has received for grants since it was relaunched last year during the first of two 2022 special sessions on the state’s property insurance problems. The program has resulted in an average reduction in premiums of just over $1,000. Patronis said he’d like “to add a little bit extra to it to carry us through” to the 2024 regular session, which will start in January.

“’It’s still in the works. We just sat down with Senate appropriations staff yesterday,” Patronis said after speaking to the Capital Tiger Bay Club at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee.

“How can we touch more people? Do we need to revisit the different eligibility categories?” Patronis said. “Are there other ways that we can play with it? Maybe we can touch more people and stretch those dollars out.”

Republican legislative leaders on Friday announced lawmakers will hold a special session starting Nov. 6 on a series of issues, including the My Safe Florida Home program. Other issues include increasing state sanctions against Iran amid the war between Israel and Hamas; providing additional assistance to people and communities affected by Hurricane Idalia; and increasing the number of children served by the Family Empowerment Scholarship for Students with Unique Abilities voucher program.

In memos about the special session, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, pointed to a “backlog” of applications for the My Safe Florida Home program.

The program initially was created in 2006 with $250 million but did not receive additional funding in the ensuing years, according to a House staff analysis. The program was re-established as an insurance patch during a May 2022 special session and received $115 million for grants. An additional $100 million went into the program as part of the state’s fiscal 2023-2024 budget, which took effect July 1.

Data from the Insurance Information Institute, an industry organization, puts Florida’s home insurance — including windstorm coverage, but not flood protection — at an average cost of $6,000 a year. The average is 42 percent higher than in 2022.

The national average is $1,700 a year, which grew by 11 percent from 2022.

Among other things, the My Safe Florida Home program provides grants to help pay for such things as reinforcing roof-to-wall connections, upgrading roof coverings and upgrading doors and windows, according to the program’s website.

Patronis said inspections are ongoing while adding, “there’s definitely more demand than there’s dollars in the bank.”

As of Monday, with 20,926 My Safe Florida grants approved, $209 million has been obligated to homeowners in various stages of completing work. Another 17,617 grant applications are considered “submitted” or are awaiting funding.

Meanwhile, inspections have been completed on 84,707 homes, with another 12,419 in the pipeline.

Patronis said he would like lawmakers during the 2024 regular session to provide money for the program on an annual recurring basis.

“I truly feel like the Legislature likes this program,” said Patronis, a former state House member whose department oversees the grant program. “They see they’ve seen the value because of the drop in premium price.”

About $25.7 million in reimbursements have been sent to 2,881 homeowners, an average of $9,137. Of those homeowners, 1,468 have disclosed insurance premium discounts, which the department puts at $1,014 annually.

The department said the process from initial home inspection through grant approval, construction and reimbursement is an average of 118 business days.

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