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Still Waiting: As Money Trickles In, State & Local Officials Say It's Not Enough

Blaise Gainey

North Florida hasn’t gotten much help from outside sources following October's Category 5 Hurricane Michael. Keiser University made donations to the panhandle area, State and local officials used an event marking a $50,000 donation from Keiser University to continue drawing attention to the area's need for more financial assistance.

Keiser University’s Belinda Keiser donated $50,000 to the hurricane relief effort in Bay County.

“This is really about caring about every Floridian in the state of Florida. And returning that area to the beauty and grace the panhandle that we all know and love," she said Wednesday, during a ceremony at the Capitol. 

Half of the money is going to the Bay Law Enforcement Associations Fund or B-Leaf. County Sheriff Tommy Ford says it’ll go to help directly to sheriffs in need.

“We had over 60 deputies that were displaced from their homes. They’re still struggling, many of them are still displaced. So this funding will go directly to support them," said Ford.

Credit Blaise Gainey / WFSU-FM

The other half is going to Volunteer Florida. As of April 23rd, it has collected nearly $7 million in donations to the Florida Disaster Fund.

"Very early on in the immediate response phase we were able to get monies out the door in smaller increments to do things like muck and guts," said Volunteer Florida CEO Clay Ingram. "Tarping roofs, doing the immediate mold remediation or to prevent mold intrusion in homes. Now were beginning to shift into the long term recovery."

Amid the area's struggles, President Donald Trump is holding a campaign rally May 8th in Panama City. Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis says what’s more important is that the President brings help.

"I told Senator [Rick] Scott earlier this week, whether the president comes or not, I hope he comes bearing gifts because the visit to northwest Florida would really be extra special if it came with a relief package from congress," said Cheif Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

As of May 1, Congress still hasn’t passed a disaster relief fund package, something U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio says North Florida’s been waiting for, for far too long.

"Getting disaster relief passed in Washington has taken way too long this is ridiculous already. Hopefully the house is going to begin the process next week. And I hope we can shortly thereafter do something here in the Senate," said Rubio.

He continued saying, "the people of northwest Florida in particular have been almost a year waiting for some help from the federal government. We have to act now, and I’ll be continuing to work very hard to get something done because this has taken far too long. Far too many people have been hurt."

The lack of federal money is also hitting Tyndall Air Force Base. Brig. Gen. Patrice Melancon says receiving no funding doesn’t hurt today but will in the future.

"We will not be prepared on the first of October 2023 to receive the first F-35 [plane's] that’s scheduled to come to Tyndall Air Force Base. That’s really the impact," said Melancon.

Meanwhile, on a state level, the Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley says the legislature has given more funding than last year to try and help with affordable housing for the area.

“We did over $200 million for affordable housing, and I think last year we were just over $100 million," he said. "$115 million is dedicated to affordable housing needs in the panhandle."

That money will be split between programs that go toward helping affordable housing developers create such units, and low-income residents looking to buy homes.

Blaise Gainey is a State Government Reporter for WFSU News. Blaise hails from Windermere, Florida. He graduated from The School of Journalism at the Florida A&M University. He formerly worked for The Florida Channel, WTXL-TV, and before graduating interned with WFSU News. He is excited to return to the newsroom. In his spare time he enjoys watching sports, Netflix, outdoor activities and anything involving his daughter.