PANAMA CITY, Fla. — Senator Marco Rubio says the Panhandle has not been forgotten in Washington, D.C., as residents still struggle with the aftermath of Hurricane Michael.
“We just have every chance we get to tell the Northwest Florida story, and the complexity of the aftermath of the storm,” he said, after a hearing he held at Gulf Coast State College on Wednesday. “We’re going to keep on it.”
At the hearing, he listened to members and leaders of the Panhandle community speak about the different issues residents and businesses are continuing to face, like housing, a smaller workforce, slow insurance payouts and more.
Of all the topics, rebuilding Tyndall Air Force Base was a large part of the discussion.
“If what the Air Force is asking for happens, Tyndall won’t just be what it used to be, it’ll be better,” said Rubio.
Before Hurricane Michael, the base was estimated to contribute more than $500 million to the economy, and it employed 11 thousand people; military members and civilians.
In order to rebuild, Tyndall Colonel Brian Laidlaw says they will need $3 billion and five to seven years. Rubio says he is pushing for Congress to pass that spending bill in September.
“It will have a crucial role for our national security that makes it the kind of place where you can’t get rid of it because of how important it is,” said Rubio.
When it comes to the housing crisis residents are faced with, Rubio says the solution isn’t easy, but finding one is crucial for recovery.
“If you don’t get the housing straightened out, you won’t get the workforce straightened out,” he said. “A lot of that is going to be driven by local policies and state policies. If there is a way for the federal government to help we want it to help, we don’t want it to get in the way.”
Sen. Rubio also said that one of the most important aspects of recovery is more efficient dissemination of federal monies, and “getting that money down quickly, faster.”
“It’s taking longer than everybody would want for it to leave F.E.M.A., but then it’s taking even longer because it’s tied up at the state level,” he said.
Florida Chief Financial Officer, Jimmy Patronis, says that hearings like this will help the Panhandle become a bigger focus in Washington D.C..
“We need to make sure the federal government knows that those needs aren’t being met,” said Patronis. “The Senator is going to take back concerns, and he’s going to hammer out solutions.”