TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The governor’s emergency fund in Florida is facing a potential shortfall of nearly $59 million due to obligations for hurricane clean-up, immigration enforcement, and Israel relief and rescue efforts. However, Governor Ron DeSantis is expected to request an additional $1 billion for the state Emergency Preparedness and Response Fund during the upcoming legislative session. According to Chris Spencer, the budget director, the issue is primarily a matter of accounting projections and does not reach a crisis level.
Spencer addressed the House Appropriations Committee, stating, “The fund is something that we deal with on an accounting basis to make sure that we can satisfy those obligations. But when there’s an emergency declared, we respond.” While the governor’s office has the option to request additional mid-year funding from the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, it is not expected to be necessary this fiscal year, as the fund currently holds just under $1 billion. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission comprises members from the House and Senate.
During the questioning, House Minority Leader Fentrice Driskell, representing Tampa, expressed concerns about the negative cash balance, describing it as a “blemish on our financial planning.” However, Appropriations Chairman Tom Leek from Ormond Beach emphasized that the Legislature’s allocations to the fund are seen as a “placeholder.”
Established in 2022, the fund allows Governor DeSantis to utilize funds during declared states of emergency. To date, the fund has received $2.92 billion in state general revenue, including $500 million for the current fiscal year, along with $621 million in federal dollars. Approximately $2.56 billion has been expended from the fund.
Following the meeting, Spencer announced his recommendation to replenish the fund with $1 billion during the 2024-2025 fiscal year. Governor DeSantis will release his budget proposal for the fiscal year in the coming weeks, and the 2024 legislative session will commence in January.
The fund is expected to face invoices on various fronts. Clean-up efforts for hurricanes Ian, Nicole, and Idalia, which occurred in 2022, could amount to $2.4 billion through already-obligated funds and projected needs. The state has already spent $2.7 billion on storm-relief efforts, with most of it expected to be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Spencer expressed confidence in receiving reimbursements from FEMA, particularly for major expenditures such as non-congregate sheltering and debris removal. However, the timing of these reimbursements remains uncertain, as the state awaits funding for Hurricane Michael in 2018 and $800 million in COVID-19 assistance.
Not all of the state’s emergency spending is anticipated to be reimbursed, especially regarding immigration enforcement and efforts related to Israel. The state recently initiated rescue flights and supply missions in Israel during the conflict with Hamas, with costs potentially exceeding $36 million. Additionally, the state has spent $27.4 million on immigration issues at the Mexican border, including controversial flights of migrants to Massachusetts and California. Figures presented to the Appropriations Committee suggest that another $11.997 million may still be spent in this area. Ongoing immigration enforcement efforts in the Florida Keys and other parts of the state, which have already incurred costs of $52 million, may require an additional $9.8 million.
In conclusion, while the governor’s emergency fund currently faces a significant potential shortfall, Governor DeSantis’s request for an additional $1 billion aims to address this issue. The fund has been utilized for various emergency situations, including hurricane clean-up, immigration enforcement, and relief efforts in Israel. The state expects to receive reimbursements from FEMA for storm-relief expenses, but the timing remains uncertain. As the state prepares for the upcoming legislative session, attention will be focused on addressing the financial needs arising from emergencies and ensuring the fund’s stability.