By John Haughey | The Center Square
Florida has spent $208 million in its coronavirus response, but the spread of COVID-19, particularly in south Florida, is straining medical resources and “significantly disrupting lifesaving and life-sustaining activities," Gov. Ron DeSantis said Wednesday in a request to President Donald Trump to declare Florida a major federal disaster area.
“Hospitals, medical facilities, and first responders are facing challenges rarely experienced before,” DeSantis wrote in the letter, requesting the president activate federal aid through five Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) individual assistance programs: Disaster Unemployment Assistance, Crisis Counseling, Community Disaster Loans and the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Program.
DeSantis said the state’s current response costs are an estimated $208.78 million in services, materials and supplies. Lawmakers added $300 million to the state’s $3.9 billion in reserve funds that the state is tapping into.
Local governments ”are strained,” DeSantis wrote, “and financial resources that were reasonably expected to be at the state’s disposal to respond are being affected by the impact to the economy of the state. Business revenue and tax receipts are suffering, and without supplemental federal assistance, the state’s ability to sufficiently respond to and recover from this event will be very impacted.”
The fallout is unfolding quickly in Florida, where tourism is the largest industry in a state heavily dependent on sales tax revenues. This year, state economists projected nearly $7 billion of the estimated $30.4 billion in general revenues the state will collect will be tourism-related.
That was before the state’s tourism industry came to a screeching halt, however, and more than 400,000 Florida hotel and hospitality were laid off last week with as many as 1.5 million of the state’s 10.4 million workforce now in job limbo, according to DeSantis’ letter.
Last week, the state’s Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) received 5,325 unemployment claims, up from 4,853 the week before, DeSantis wrote, but the sign of things to come may be in the 130,000 phone calls DEO received between Monday and Thursday last week compared with a 28,000 weekly call average.
DeSantis said since DEO posted its Florida Business Damage Assessment Survey on Friday, 6,617 businesses reported “negative impacts” from the coronavirus, forcing them to lay off a collective 40,438 workers, including 9,192 permanently.
The survey also serves as registration portal for state and federal services, including the state’s $50 million Emergency Bridge Loan Program and programs offered through the U.S. Small Business Administration.
DeSantis warned in the letter that Florida’s medical system already is burdened, and the situation will get worse in areas where it is already worse – about half of the state’s reported 1,412 COVID-19 cases are in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“The insufficient medical resources and capacities of medical facilities, and the already limited number of qualified medical personnel will only continue to rapidly deplete as the impacts of COVID-19 continue to spread,” DeSantis said.
Demographics also render the state particularly susceptible, DeSantis wrote, noting the state estimates 16 percent of residents under the age of 65 are without health insurance and more than 20 percent of Florida’s 21.3 million residents are 65 and older.
“Seniors suffer a disproportionate impact from the virus,” he wrote.
The letter stated 109 cases of COVID-19 are being investigated at nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state, with 21 diagnosed as positive.
“Although the state is instituting strict measures to prevent further infections, it is extremely likely COVID-19 will continue to spread and impact the elderly population statewide,” DeSantis wrote.
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