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Florida, Puerto Rico get billions in federal disaster funding

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TALLAHASSEE – The budget deal signed by President Donald Trump on Friday includes $90 billion in disaster aid, billions of which will flow to Florida and Puerto Rico to help pay for the damage and aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria.

For months, Florida leaders across the political spectrum have pleaded with Congress to pass disaster aid funding.

“This is a big win for all those who are still struggling to recover from last summer’s devastating storms,” said U.S. Bill Nelson, D-Orlando, in a statement. “For some, the funding in this bill is a light at the end of the tunnel and a major step forward in helping them return to the way life used to be before these storms.”

There is $2.7 billion for schools affected by the storms, including those in Florida taking in Puerto Rican students whose families fled the island because of Maria, which devastated the island in September.

The bill also includes $2.3 billion to help agriculture, including Florida citrus farmers, recover after losing much of their crop after Irma in September.

“The passage of this spending bill is a critical first step to finally getting Florida’s farmers, ranchers and growers long-awaited and desperately needed relief,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who is running for governor. “Without this emergency assistance, Florida agriculture cannot fully recover from the unprecedented damage caused by Hurricane Irma.”

Putnam went to Washington twice after Irma hit to get funding for citrus farmers, who sustained $760 million in losses after Irma, according to the USDA.

Nearly one-third of Puerto Rico remains without electricity four months after Maria hit, and the bill has $2 billion to repair its power grid. Worries about health care funding for Puerto Rico are also addressed by the $4.8 billion to pay for the island’s Medicaid program for the next two years.

Funding for repairs to the Herbert Hoover Dike in Lake Okeechobee, something Gov. Rick Scott has pushed Trump and Congressional leaders for, was also included in the budget deal. The money is part of $10.4 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers and will help the agency complete repairs by 2022.

Scott is considering a run for Senate this year in which he would challenge Nelson.

grohrer@orlandosentinel.com or (850) 222-5564

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