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Did Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis get a "historic commitment" from Trump for Hurricane Michael aid?
Editor’s note, March 10 12:55 p.m.: Two days after our fact-check posted, the White House issued a press release stating President Donald Trump on March 10 ordered that the federal government will cover 100 percent of eligible costs for debris removal and emergency protective measures for 45 days from Hurricane Michael’s landfall. It does not affect our ruling.
In his campaign for governor, Ron DeSantis promised Florida voters that his personal relationship with President Donald Trump would pay off for the state.
A little more than two months since taking office, DeSantis claims it already has.
DeSantis used part of his first State of the State speech March 5 to trumpet news of a "historic commitment" from the Trump administration to help repair parts of the Panhandle that Hurricane Michael battered in October.
"I’ve already traveled to Washington, D.C., and secured a historic commitment from the Trump administration to provide assistance to the communities that Michael battered," DeSantis said.
Is that true?
Part of the answer, PolitiFact Florida found, relies on a handshake agreement between the governor and president. The other part about it being it "historic" is more easily understood, and wrong.
After Michael barreled through the areas around Mexico Beach, federal emergency management officials said the federal government would pay 100 percent of the costs for debris removal and emergency protective measures for a period five days. After that, the federal government would cover 75 percent of the costs. DeSantis asked Trump to extend 100 percent federal coverage for 45 days.
"Debris remains pervasive, and thousands of businesses are still struggling to reopen," DeSantis wrote to Trump, saying the state had already spent $1 billion.
DeSantis met with Trump at the White House in January and said Trump granted his request.
The agreement between Trump and DeSantis remains a verbal one, however. DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferre told PolitiFact Florida the state does not have written confirmation, and FEMA media relations headquarters did not respond to our requests for days.
Shortly after our fact-check initially posted, a FEMA spokeswoman told us that the agency was aware of the announcement by DeSantis regarding the increase in the federal cost share and that the request was in process. She did not elaborate.
Local governments we talked to are proceeding as if the deal is done.
Bay County, for example, submitted for reimbursement March 8. County spokeswoman Valerie Sale said she expects the project will be covered at the current federal share of 75 percent and will be adjusted on subsequent projects if or when the federal share is modified.
According to Sale, her county heard from a FEMA official, Nelson Santos, who said FEMA was working on codifying the change into the Federal Register. We reached Santos by email to confirm.
"The only confirmation I made clear to Bay County consultants is the 5-days to 45-days extension," Santos, a FEMA program delivery manager, told PolitiFact in an email. "It has not been determined or official as of yet what the cost share will be."
The best answer we could get from FEMA by deadline was that DeSantis’ request remains in process and has not yet been determined.
The extension would be a "game changer," Bay County Commission Chairman Philip "Griff" Griffitts told PolitiFact, saving county taxpayers there an estimated $85 million.
Tanya Castro, administrator of hard-hit Mexico Beach, said that her city was advised verbally by state and FEMA officials that it will receive the full amount of its reimbursement, but she didn’t have any formal documentation.
Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey praised efforts by DeSantis to help his coastal community including $2.8 million in state money for debris cleanup. So far, FEMA provided about $2 million for cleanup. But Cathey said his city needs more money.
"We need it fast," he said.
Assuming the extension will occur, it’s not as historic as DeSantis let on.
In 2017, Trump authorized 100 percent coverage for Puerto Rico for 180 days following Hurricane Maria. He later extended the amount of time to 90 days for debris and 60 days for emergency protective measures.
He also authorized 100 percent coverage for the Virgin Islands for emergency protective measures for 30 days following Hurricane Irma. Trump then extended his order for 60 days, both for debris removal and emergency protective measures in response to hurricanes Maria and Irma.
Trump was not the first president to do this. President George W. Bush gave the go-ahead for extensions that provided 100 percent coverage for months in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said the federal Stafford Act allows the president to reduce or eliminate the share of cost borne by local or state entities, Ellis said.
"I wouldn’t call that historic," Ellis said. "It has been done before."
When we told DeSantis’ office about we learned, she clarified that this was the first time in Florida history that a newly elected governor received the president’s commitment to increase the 100 percent coverage from five to 45 days.
"We are not aware of any time in Florida history where a hurricane received this many days at 100 percent reimbursement other than the three storms in 2005, which were considered as a group," Ferre said. "This is a historic extension for Florida. Gov. DeSantis has the commitment from the president of the United States, who is the only one who can authorize it."
Meanwhile, some federal lawmakers have expressed frustration that despite efforts by both chambers, the budget deal Trump signed in February to end the shutdown included no disaster relief.
"Florida’s Panhandle needs help now, not six months down the road," said U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, a Republican from northwest Florida.
DeSantis said, "I’ve already traveled to Washington, D.C. and secured a historic commitment from the Trump administration to provide assistance to the communities that Michael battered."
DeSantis provided no details in his speech, but he was referring to his effort in January to get Trump to extend the amount of time the federal government would pick up the tab for debris removal and emergency protective measures from five to 45 days. DeSantis got a verbal commitment from Trump to make that happen, but we were unable to confirm that with FEMA.
A spokeswoman for DeSantis says the "historic commitment" is that such an extension is unusual for Florida. But we found that it’s not unusual for the president to tack on extensions even for months that the federal government will pick up the entire tab.
We rate this claim Mostly False.
This fact-check was updated not long after publication with official comment from FEMA.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, State of the State speech and video, March 5, 2019
Gov. Ron DeSantis, Letter to President Trump, Jan. 18, 2019
Gov. Ron DeSantis, Letter to President Trump, Jan. 23, 2019
Gov. Ron DeSantis news release, Governor Ron DeSantis Announces Additional Federal Reimbursement for Florida Panhandle, Jan. 24, 2019
Florida Division of Emergency Management, Florida Division of Emergency Management Celebrates Accomplishments Since January 8, March 5, 2019
Congress.gov, S.572 - A bill to provide for additional supplemental appropriations for disaster relief, Feb. 26, 2019
Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hurricane Michael Recovery, Feb. 21, 2019
Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hurricane Michael Recovery, Feb. 6, 2019
Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hurricane Michael Recovery, Jan. 30. 2019
Federal Emergency Management Agency, President Donald J. Trump Amends State of Florida Disaster Declaration, Oct. 14, 2018
Federal Emergency Management Agency, President Donald J. Trump Approves Major Disaster Declaration for Florida, Sept. 10, 2017
Federal Emergency Management Agency, President Donald J. Trump Amends Puerto Rico Declaration, Feb. 23, 2018
Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA Extends 100 Percent Funding for Emergency Response to Hurricanes, March 20, 2018
Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA Announces 100 Percent Reimbursement Extension For Debris Removal And Emergency Protective Measures, Oct. 10, 2008
Federal Emergency Management Agency, President Bush Extends 100% Funding for Debris Removal in Five Louisiana Parishes, June 30, 2006
Federal Emergency Management Agency, President Bush Continues 100 Percent Funding For Certain Disaster Recovery Projects In Mississippi, Nov. 19, 2005
U.S. Sen. David Perdue, Bipartisan Senators Introduce Major Disaster Relief Package, Feb. 26, 2019
Roll Call, Border, homeland security deal could come over weekend, Feb. 8, 2019
NPR, In Florida And Georgia, Still Waiting For Hurricane Aid, Feb. 25, 2019
Tampa Bay Times, 'I'm going home to a disaster': Panhandle Republican rips Congress inaction on Hurricane Michael aid, Feb. 15, 2019
Tampa Bay Times, DeSantis’ voting record in the eye of the storm, Aug. 11, 2018
Tallahassee Democrat, It's 'the hurricane everyone forgot'; North Florida lawmakers see aid gap after Michael, Feb. 24, 2019
Beaumont Enterprise, BRIEF: Counties to be reimbursed for 100 percent of debris removal costs, Oct. 8, 2008
Houston Chronicle, Political storm brews over Harvey aid; FEDERAL FUNDS: Denied $18.7B earmark, Abbott continues to press hard for more relief, Oct. 25, 2017
Houston Chronicle, CONGRESS: Relief bill could get caught up in Senate's war over the budget, Sept. 7, 2017
Florida Today, FEMA approves Brevard for individual assistance, Sept. 14, 2017
White House, Press release, March 10, 2019
Interview, Helen Aguirre Ferre, Gov. Ron DeSantis spokeswoman, March 5, 2019
Interview, Steve Ellis, Taxpayers for Common Sense vice president, March 5, 2019
Interview, Bay County Commission Chairman Philip "Griff" Griffitts via spokeswoman Valerie Sale, March 6, 2019
Interview, Valerie Sale, Bay County spokeswoman, March 8, 2019
Interview, Nelson Santos, FEMA program delivery manager, March 8, 2019
Interview, Mexico Beach Mayor Al Cathey, March 6, 2019
Interview, Mexico Beach City Administrator Tanya Castro, March 7, 2019
Interview, Bay County Commission Chairman Philip "Griff" Griffitts statement provided by spokeswoman Valerie Sale, March 6, 2019
Interview, Stephanie R. Lambert, U.S. Rep. Al Lawson spokeswoman, March 6, 2019
Interview, Alexandria Bruner, FEMA spokeswoman, March 8, 2019
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Did Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis get a "historic commitment" from Trump for Hurricane Michael aid?
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