Almost exactly one year after Hurricane Ian slammed into Southwest Florida with terrifying, deadly force, some of the recovery dollars designed to continue to help the region rebuild are being delayed by officials in Washington who have been unable so far to avert a likely federal government shutdown starting this weekend.
Already, in the past month leading up to the potential shutdown, the Federal Emergency Management Agency has paused at least $555 million destined for long-term recovery projects in Florida, including those related to Hurricane Ian, according to The Washington Post.
The White House on Thursday provided slightly more detail, releasing a state-by-state breakdown of the number of disaster recovery projects that it said would be “further delayed” by a shutdown because FEMA is forced to “prioritize only immediate lifesaving and life sustaining operations.”
Florida was poised to see 272 projects — the highest of any state in the nation — affected, according to the news release. According to a project list FEMA provided to the Tampa Bay Times, the recipients of delayed funding include Pinellas County, Tampa General Hospital, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office and more.
Jeannine Joy, president and CEO of the United Way of Lee, Hendry and Glades counties in Southwest Florida, said Thursday she still didn’t know how the shutdown could impact reimbursement grants that her organization receives from the federal government to provide things like mental health care for first responders. But the last time the government shut down, her group had to step up to help people whose paychecks suddenly stopped, providing them with essentials like food and diapers.
“The majority of people are paycheck to paycheck, especially when you’ve gone through a hurricane and already tapped into savings … it’s going to affect a lot of people,” Joy said. “We’re prepared and ready to respond — we hope we don’t have to though, because it’s too much for the people in our community to have to go through, after all of this. Especially on the one-year anniversary.”
Congress could keep funding disaster recovery projects in several ways, though none has come to fruition amid the gridlock. The Senate secured a bipartisan deal to fund the government short-term that included restoring billions for disaster relief plus aid for Ukraine, but the House has remained stalled.
Refusing to support short-term agreements are a small number of hard-right holdouts in the House, multiple Floridians among them, who argue the stopgap measures feed a cycle of out-of-control spending. Reps. Anna Paulina Luna of St. Petersburg, Matt Gaetz of Pensacola and Cory Mills of the New Smyrna Beach area northeast of Orlando were all numbered as part of the group who wouldn’t support a short-term proposal to keep the government funded that also had immigration restrictions attached, according to a Wednesday article by The New York Times.
Luna appeared to dig in on her position earlier this week in a post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. “Shut it down,” she wrote.
Edie Guy, a spokesperson for Luna, said that in taking her hard-line position, “Rep. Luna is standing with the constituents of her district, many of whom are on fixed incomes, who literally cannot afford Washington’s reckless spending and Bidenflation.”
Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat from Tampa, held up a print-out of the Tampa Bay Times’ front page during a Thursday committee meeting, pointing to a story about the risk to FEMA funding.
“This is crazy. This is self-inflicted,” she said. “This is not how a country as great as the United States of America should be acting.”
The confluence of the two events — the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ian on Thursday, and the deadline to avert a shutdown at midnight Saturday — made for some awkward politicking, as Florida politicians in Washington noted the one-year mark by promising to stand by storm survivors for the long haul. FEMA sent out a news release touting all the relief work it had done in the year since Ian’s devastation, without mentioning the likely shutdown hampering those efforts.
As has become typical with shutdown scenarios, each side points a finger at the other. Republican Sen. Rick Scott, for example, voted against the Senate’s bipartisan short-term stopgap but introduced legislation to fund disasters separately from Ukraine aid, which failed to come up for a vote because of Democratic objections.
“I know I speak for families in my state and all across our country when I say that we are SICK AND TIRED of seeing disaster aid used as some political pawn,” Scott wrote in a statement.
Democrat Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a former member of Congress who is running to replace Scott, bashed his vote as “the definition of putting petty personal politics above what is best for our state.”
But the dynamics of the House, where Republicans only have a slim majority, have granted an unusual amount of power to the hard-right hard-liners, which Gaetz in particular has leveraged. Political insiders widely expect him to run for Florida governor in 2026. He did not respond to a text message requesting comment on how the shutdown could impact Florida hurricane recovery efforts.