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In Florida And Georgia, Still Waiting For Hurricane Aid


Back in October, Hurricane Michael flattened parts of the Florida Panhandle and southern Georgia. Communities there are still recovering. And when Congress passed a major spending bill this month, it left out money for hurricane relief.

As NPR's Greg Allen reports, that reinforced some people in the region's sense that they've been forgotten.

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: In Panama City, Mexico Beach and other areas on the Panhandle, more than four months after the storm, local governments are still struggling to collect debris. But officials are concerned they're no longer getting much national attention.

GREG BRUDNICKI: My sense is it's out of sight, out of mind.

ALLEN: Panama City Mayor Greg Brudnicki says additional disasters and other major news stories, from the California wildfires to the government shutdown, pushed the recovery from Hurricane Michael out of the public consciousness.

BRUDNICKI: Those new events supplant the ones that occurred before them. And ours - you know, the storm hit and, you know, I mean, we are still cleaning up.

ALLEN: Just picking up all the debris is expected to total more than $100 million, well over Panama City's annual operating budget. Brudnicki has received promises of reimbursement from the state and the federal government. But so far, no money has been provided.

This month, Brudnicki and other officials in Florida and Georgia were surprised when congressional budget negotiators decided to leave $10 billion in disaster assistance out of the spending bill that ended the federal government shutdown.

Republican Congressman Neal Dunn, who represents the Panama City area, was stunned by the omission and voted against the spending bill in protest. Dunn says the disaster aid left out of the bill would've helped many other areas besides those hit by Hurricane Michael.

NEAL DUNN: Also, you have Florence and disasters affecting the Carolinas, Florida, Georgia, Alabama, California - all their wildfires - Alaska - their earthquakes - Hawaii - their volcanoes. This was a very modest emergency spending bill.

ALLEN: The spending bill did include money for FEMA, but FEMA funds can't be used to repair military facilities such as Camp Lejeune, hit hard in Hurricane Florence, and Tyndall Air Force Base, devastated in Michael. Both bases are vital economic engines for their surrounding areas.

Dunn says FEMA also can't help clean up some 3 million acres of trees knocked down by Michael.

DUNN: It's just a fire hazard and a beetle infestation hazard lying on the floors of our forests. And we have to have the money to get that up and out.

ALLEN: In Georgia, Governor Brian Kemp and the state's two Republican senators have all called President Trump to lobby for a new disaster spending bill.

Republican Congressman Austin Scott, who's south Georgia district was hit hard by Michael, is seeking some $3 billion in aid for farmers in his state and others. Scott says cotton farmers were getting ready to harvest a record crop when the storm hit.

AUSTIN SCOTT: That crop took a major, major hit. And pecans took another tremendous hit. You've got orchards that were planted by people's grandparents that literally don't exist anymore.

ALLEN: Scott says he's optimistic that Congress will soon be able to pass a spending bill to help communities recovering from Michael and other disasters.

Greg Allen, NPR News, Miami.

(SOUNDBITE OF TREMOR'S "CARACOL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.