Florida Senate passes bill for Hurricane Idalia aid and funding for My Safe Florida Home

Hurricane Idalia
Street flooding in Gulfport, Florida from Hurricane Idalia storm surge. By Seán Kinane/WMNF News (30 Aug. 2023)

The Florida Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a measure that would provide additional aid to rural areas after Hurricane Idalia and address a backlog of residents seeking home improvement grants to help lower property insurance premiums.

The Senate voted unanimously to support the $416 million measure (HB 1C), which is ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The House unanimously passed the bill Tuesday as part of a special legislative session.

Senate sponsor Corey Simon, R-Tallahassee, said people in the Big Bend region hit by Idalia on Aug. 30, particularly in the agricultural industry, are “smiling today” as lawmakers backed additional assistance.

“It’s good to see that folks are seeing rural Florida, seeing our producers that are out there, their needs, their wants,” Simon said.

The measure drew some concerns during the three-day special session.

One issue was a two-year extension of a developer-friendly provision that prohibits local governments affected by 2022’s Hurricane Ian from raising building fees or adopting “restrictive or burdensome” changes to comprehensive plans and land-development regulations.

But those concerns were outweighed by issues such as providing $176.17 million to the My Safe Florida Home program, which includes matching grants up to $10,000 to help homeowners pay for such things as reinforcing roof-to-wall connections, upgrading roof coverings and upgrading doors and windows, according to the program’s website.

The money is expected to cover more than 17,600 already submitted applications to the program.

With $215 million allocated for grants the past two years, nearly $210 million has already been approved for about 21,000 homeowners.

The bill also would take a series of steps to help communities and people recover from Hurricane Idalia.

It would offer $75 million to a program that provides low-interest or interest-free loans to agriculture and aquaculture producers, $37.5 million to help timber owners and $50 million for hurricane repair and recovery projects in counties that received Federal Emergency Management disaster designations.

The bill also would provide $25 million to the Florida Housing Finance Corp. for what is known as the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program in the designated counties, while tax breaks would be offered on agricultural equipment that couldn’t be used in the two months after the storm; on the purchase of fencing and building materials purchased to make repairs after Idalia; and on fuel used for agricultural shipments and debris removal.

©2023 The News Service of Florida

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