The Florida areas hardest-hit by Hurricane Irma will get $615.9 million from the federal government that is earmarked for housing, business losses and damaged infrastructure, including roads, bridges and sidewalks.
But the funds could disappear quickly once the state Department of Economic Opportunity starts to distribute them.
“We must continue to work to ensure everyone impacted by this storm can fully recover,” Gov. Rick Scott said Tuesday.
The majority of Florida counties are likely to receive some of the Community Development Block Grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. FEMA designated 48 of Florida’s 67 counties, including Orange, Osceola, Lake, Seminole, Volusia and Polk, for individual assistance. The Florida Keys suffered the greatest damage, records show.
Details of how homeowners might get help with new roofs or impacted businesses might get aid remain to be seen.
The state is working with an array of government officials at all levels to establish a spending plan for the money. It is also seeking flexibility for spending from the federal government. Florida is likely to pursue additional federal funds once officials see how far the $615 million goes, said Tiffany Vause, director of communications for the state Department of Economic Opportunity.
In Orange, Seminole, Orange and Osceola counties, more than 37,660 Irma-related insurance claims had been closed without payment — making them part of the 250,000 unpaid and closed claims statewide.
Seminole County Commission Chairman John Horan said damage to county-owned lift stations and stormwater drainage was vast. Near Airport Boulevard, Curryville Road collapsed.
“We are looking forward to working with the federal government and finding out how the state is going to allocate these funds,” said Horan, adding that $615 million is unlikely to cover needs statewide.
Florida’s Irma victims will share $7.4 billion in the disaster grant funds with Texans flooded by Hurricane Harvey, Puerto Rico residents impacted by Hurricane Maria and Western property owners affected by wildfires during the last year.
In Osceola County, the cost of repairs to public structures and other expenses is expected to top $20 million, said Richard Halquist, operations manager for the Osceola County Office of Emergency Management. Some residents of rural areas still have access issues with bridges out along County Road 419, he added.
“That’s not a big chunk of money when it comes to statewide needs, but it’s good to know it’s there, along with other aid,” Halquist said. “And we’re good jugglers too.”
Orange County expects to get a final tally on damage, much of which was related to debris, by the end of January, according to a spokeswoman.
In coming up with a total for Florida, federal housing and disaster groups looked seriously damaged houses and other needs. The money is aimed at expenses that slip through the cracks of private insurance and federal grants. It can go toward constructing new housing and helping restore businesses.
“HUD’s analysis found thousands of middle- and lower-income homeowners and renters [who] experienced serious damage to their residences and were not adequately insured for flood damage,” according to a spokesman.
Throughout the state, a mid-November report by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation that found the quarter-million unpaid, closed claims noted that they were among 830,788 claims overall — with about 64 percent of that total closed as of Nov. 13.
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