MIRAMAR BEACH — A federal outlay of nearly $500 million for Hurricane Michael debris removal, engineered during a recent meeting between U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and the administration of President Donald Trump, has elevated Gaetz's grade for the federal response to the October storm, the congressman said earlier this week.

 

"I would give the federal government an A-triple-plus as a consequence of the recent negotiations between myself and Gov. DeSantis and the administration," Gaetz said Thursday before delivering the keynote address at this year's Air Force Contracting Summit.

The summit, sponsored by the Defense Leadership Forum — which brings together congressional and military leaders and business representatives — brought hundreds of business people to the Sandestin Hilton to explore military contracting opportunities. Many of those opportunities are at nearby Tyndall Air Force Base, which was devastated after taking a direct hit from the Category 4 hurricane.

Detailing negotiations for the debris removal funding, Gaetz said, "The federal government is going to cover 45 days of debris removal, not just the five days that was originally planned. That has an impact of $493 million to our state and to our local communities impacted by Michael."

That federal money is particularly important in light of lagging private charitable contributions to Hurricane Michael recovery.

"The charitable contributions that typically come in for storms of this magnitude, we've seen less participation there because these are small towns, and they're out of the news," Gaetz said. "But the rebuild is still going to be very substantial."

While noting the increased debris removal funding, Gaetz criticized other aspects of the federal response to Michael. Routinely, he said, federal disaster relief funding is handled in a stand-alone supplemental spending bill. That didn't happen with Michael because the disaster relief funding measure got loaded down with language related to the partial federal government shutdown, he said.

The shutdown ended Jan. 25 after 35 days, but the temporary funding measure expires Feb. 15. Gaetz, though, said he is optimistic that a "clean" disaster relief funding bill addressing only Hurricane Michael can soon pass in Congress.

But Gaetz also noted that he's not optimistic that another shutdown can be avoided after the Feb. 15 deadline. At issue in the ongoing fiscal wrangling in Washington is Trump's insistence on funding for a wall along the Mexican border.  

"I'm very discouraged that this week, Congress got into Washington late Monday night and left in the (afternoon) Wednesday," Gaetz said. "I'm not encouraged that there is a lot of productive negotiation going on."

Gaetz said he expects that "the president will have to access emergency powers" to get funding for the wall.

"To me, there is an obvious deal to be made," Gaetz said. "We build the wall and we provide some semblance of comfort and status to DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. Unfortunately, Democrats have not been receptive to that offer. I don't know why."