We are now a few days past Hurricane Idalia making landfall in Florida. Damage is still being assessed and individuals are still being aided to help them return to normal.
But soon, the conversation may turn to a bigger issue: Florida’s still floundering home insurance market.
As CFO Jimmy Patronis noted after Idalia’s landfall, the storm hit a less-populated area of the state. Patronis called that a “silver lining” for the insurance market.
“It was a very narrow part of the state, but it was also a very fast-moving storm,” Patronis said. “Fast-moving storms don’t have an opportunity to dump as much rain. Flooding has a different effect when the water has to go somewhere. So again, if there was a path that Idalia could take, that was the best output for at least the insurance market in Florida.”
But if claims do start piling up, it could add to the already existing strain on the market.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott — who preceded Ron DeSantis as Governor and notably has an icy relationship with his successor — repeated again this week that home insurance is way overpriced for many families.
“It’s way too expensive to insure homes in Florida right now. And so we’ve got to work with the insurance companies,” Scott said. “Until it’s completely solved, there’s more to do.”
Even Fox News, who treated DeSantis as a darling before his 2024 polls started collapsing, offered some scrutiny over the state’s handling of the insurance crisis in recent years.
In discussing the issue this week, DeSantis laughably blamed the Legislature for not going as far as the Governor wanted in enacting market reforms. In his first chance to expand on those remarks by providing some examples, DeSantis parried the question.
“We can talk about the policy stuff,” DeSantis said. “I think, right now, we’re focusing on the response, protecting people and then getting what we need to go there.”
This Governor has more control over the Legislature than any in recent history. The idea he couldn’t push through reforms he thought would help this market — an issue he surely knows is a political liability — is beyond belief.
We’ll see if the Governor expands on those comments as the 2024 Legislative Session nears. For now, homeowners will be left to “knock on wood” that claims arising from this storm don’t torpedo the market, and that another storm doesn’t hit this season that could do the same.
Now, it’s on to our weekly game of winners and losers.
Honorable mention: Department of Children and Families. Several winners stepped up this week to make things easier for those impacted by Hurricane Idalia.
DCF worked to release September’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits early in all 49 counties covered by an executive order from Gov. DeSantis.
Obviously, prepping ahead of a storm is always hectic, and it impacts far more people than actually get hit by a storm given the uncertainty in predictions. Stocking food is a big part of storm prep, and DCF aimed to make that process a bit easier for those who rely on SNAP benefits.
The September benefits were added directly to individuals’ EBT cards as they went to grab food.
“We know how helpful the early release of food assistance benefits can be for our SNAP recipients in purchasing non-perishable items in preparing for the storm or in replenishing food losses after the storm,” said DCF Secretary Shevaun Harris before landfall.
“The Department will do all that it can to support those impacted by this storm,” he added.
And of course, as individuals in impacted areas worked to recover, they could also use their September benefits over the last couple days of August.
Almost (but not quite) the biggest winner: Power companies. Power is another major concern every time Florida gets slammed with a storm. But companies in charge of the state’s power supply were at the ready as soon as it became clear Idalia was on a path to strike the state.
Though the storm didn’t directly hit Tampa, TECO stayed on top of communicating to customers early in the week as Idalia’s path remained uncertain. The area did feel some of the storm’s effects, and TECO had power returned to all of its customers by 9 a.m. Thursday.
Duke Energy customers were also hit hard, though the company made sure its workers were prepared ahead of time, mobilizing more than 5,000 responders early in the week. The company moved quickly to respond to power outages in and around the Big Bend region. The company also donated $300,000 to help with the response.
Other companies with customers in the affected area worked to step up as well. Idalia hit Wednesday morning, and by Thursday afternoon, more than 430,000 customers already had service restored. By Friday, just around 80,000 power outages remained.
The storm’s path likely helped the response here, hitting a less populated area of the state. That avoided having millions and millions of Floridians without power for an extended period of time.
But no matter the total number, it’s just as debilitating for anyone affected. And crews worked long and hard to help those in need in Idalia’s aftermath.
The biggest winner: Hospitality industry. Floridians seeking shelter ahead of and during the storm also got a hand.
Uber offered free rides to and from hurricane shelters in several counties in the days leading up to Idalia’s impact. U-Haul, meanwhile, offered 30 days of free self-storage and U-Box container usage at 54 of its Florida facilities.
For those looking for a place to stay, Rosen Hotels & Resorts offered discounted rates at its properties. The Central Florida-based hotel chain was away from a direct hit by Idalia, but still close enough that those needing a place to stay could get there without too long of a trek.
“We do this because it is the right thing to do,” said Harris Rosen, Founder and COO of Rosen Hotels & Resorts, a Central Florida-based hotel operator. “The safety of our guests, our associates and families across Florida is something we will go to great lengths to protect.”
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) and Gov. DeSantis also worked together to have hotels waive any no-pet policies, as families fleeing their homes certainly did not want to leave their furry friends behind.
“Our members and Florida’s hospitality industry are committed to being a safe haven for visitors and residents during Hurricane Idalia,” said FRLA President and CEO Carol Dover. Dover called the move to allow pets “nothing short of a lifeline for families seeking safety.”
Dishonorable mention: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. NOAA came up short when it came to gathering data as Hurricane Idalia made landfall, as all of its planes designed for that purpose were grounded.
Two of its three Hurricane Hunter planes were undergoing repairs as Idalia approached Florida. The third, named “Miss Piggy,” tracked Hurricane Franklin and Idalia before the latter made landfall. But after flying 11 of the 12 days before landfall, Miss Piggy too was grounded, forcing NOAA to turn to the Air Force to provide a plane to provide data as Idalia moved across Florida.
It’s true, the job got done. But why was this even an issue in the first place? This is peak hurricane season. NOAA should not be in a situation where three of its three tracking planes are out of commission as residents are desperate for information about a storm.
Yes, NOAA has other tools available to track storms as well, particularly when they reach land, where radars on the ground can be used.
But while it wasn’t a huge issue this time, hurricane season isn’t over. What if the planes go down next time before a storm reaches shore and analysts are without a tool to gather data?
According to The Washington Post, which broke the story, the planes are all near the end of their life spans, meaning it’s entirely possible this happens again.
If this is a funding issue, NOAA needs to get with Congress to hammer it out. Floridians — and all Americans for that matter — deserve as much accuracy as possible when it comes to preparing for these storms. And there may be more coming in the weeks ahead.
Almost (but not quite) the biggest loser: Bunnell Elementary. The Florida Department of Education is stepping in to help the Flagler County school district investigate why Bunnell leaders held an assembly with Black fourth- and fifth-graders, warning them about low test scores and the possibility of jail.
Parents and students are continuing to speak out following the assembly. Though that meeting was set to discuss low test scores, the district has confirmed that students were called in regardless of their performance in school. The school simply rounded up the Black students and sent them to the discussion, according to Flagler Schools Coordinator of Communications Jason Wheeler.
It’s legitimately hard to believe this is a real story in 2023. The presentation purportedly dealt with Black test scores being lower on the whole. But assigning some general idea to all members of a specific race is the literal definition of racial stereotyping. Why not just call in all low-performing students?
Two Black teachers reportedly led the scare tactic talk. Perhaps Bunnell thought that would blunt any criticism? Nope!
It definitely didn’t offer any relief to these parents, some of whom now have kids telling them they are afraid to go back to school because they’re worried they might go to jail.
Some parents seem like they aren’t going to take an apology as a remedy for what happened at Bunnell.
“I honestly feel like no amount of apologies is going to make this OK overnight,” one parent told The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
“We appreciate it, you know, the apologies that we have gotten and that they have gotten and that other children have gotten as well as other families. But I feel like justice is needed to be served in this situation because at the end of the day, they segregated our 8- to 12-year-olds in 2023, and that’s a despicable action for me.”
That may mean heads will need to roll at Bunnell. Anyone too blind to see how harebrained this idea was probably should not be in charge of shaping children’s future anyway.
The biggest loser: Congress. As Florida moves into the recovery stage following Idalia, talk will now turn to funding to help affected areas recover. It’s unclear, however, whether the federal government has enough money budgeted to respond to Idalia, much less any additional storms that may strike this season.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator DeAnne Criswell said before Idalia struck that the agency may have to strictly focus on life-saving measures if the agency doesn’t get more funding.
“Our estimates do still say that we may have a depletion of our fund — now it’s pushed into the middle of September,” Criswell said on “Face the Nation”. “And as we get closer to that, I mean, this is a day-by-day monitoring of the situation.”
President Joe Biden has requested $12 billion to help boost FEMA’s coffers (though Criswell has said even that amount may not be enough). Of course, there is plenty of finger-pointing to go around here. Congressional Republicans are blasting Biden for tying that cash to funding Ukraine’s efforts to fight back against Russia.
“Stop playing politics,” U.S. Sen. Rick Scott posted on X. “Floridians can’t wait.”
Scott is pushing for unanimous consent on a disaster funding bill. At least one Democrat has already signaled she intends to block it unless Ukraine funding is included.
The funding should be kept separate from polarizing issues like the war in Ukraine. On that point, Republicans are correct. But this problem did not arise overnight.
Members of Congress for years have bickered over funding priorities. Pushing to cut the budget is all well and good in theory until a disaster strikes and people need money to recover their homes or businesses.
Congress is in charge of the purse strings. Members deserve criticism when those funds aren’t there. After this specific Ukraine issue is resolved, members need to get their act together and make sure this pot of disaster funding is fully replaced.
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