Voices: Ron DeSantis doesn’t think federal funds should be used for hurricane relief — except in Florida

Tropical Weather-Florida (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Tropical Weather-Florida (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Death and destructions are not the only things Hurricane Ian brought to Florida this week. Along with the storm surge and high winds which devastated the southwestern portion of the Sunshine State, Governor Ron DeSantis’ chickens have also come home to roost.

The man who first made his name in Congress by opposing hurricane relief is now begging the federal government to bail out his state. In doing so, he’s providing a timely reminder to the American people as to why Republicans — and DeSantis specifically — cannot be trusted to govern this great country.

First, let’s state what should go without saying: Floridians need and deserve our help. Following tornadoes in the western portion of Kentucky last year and flooding in the eastern part this year, I condemned liberals who suggested my home state “reaped what it sowed” by voting for the likes of Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul. Florida is no exception. The people there, regardless of politics, are human beings and our fellow Americans. We have a moral and patriotic duty to come to their aid.

Yet, there was one thing those Twitter liberals got right: their criticism of McConnell and Paul. They too have opposed disaster relief for other (Democratic) areas. Indeed, Republicans seem to only care about Americans when they’re in red states. That’s despicable.

Florida’s answer to these heartless and calculating politicians is, of course, Ron DeSantis. We know just how cruel he can be – this is the man who ‘kidnapped’ refugees and flew them halfway across the country just this month. But DeSantis has always shown his true colors, going back to his earliest days as a Tea Party congressman.

In January 2013, the newly elected Congressman DeSantis opposed a $9.7 billion flood insurance aid package to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey. Though he expressed sympathy for the victims, he said that “allowing the program to increase its debt by another $9.7 billion with no plan to offset the spending with cuts elsewhere is not fiscally responsible.” In short, DeSantis was sorry for what happened, but not enough to help. His response was basically the equivalent of a shrug emoji.

Fast forward nine-and-a-half years. Now-Governor DeSantis wants the federal government to pick up 100 percent of the cost for debris removal and emergency protective measures for the 60 days following the hurricane. Yet when people bring up his hypocrisy, the governor’s spokesman says that “we have no time for politics or pettiness.”

It isn’t politics or pettiness to point out a glaring double-standard, one that seems to prove Republicans are incapable of caring for anyone but themselves. Nor is it petty to point out that Florida — a state governed by Republicans since 1999 and in which Republicans control both houses of the legislature — is in the midst of an insurance crisis.

Since the beginning of 2020, ABC News reports, “at least a dozen insurance companies in the state have gone out of business, including six this year alone.” A further 30 are being watched by the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation “because of financial instability.” Meanwhile, the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corporation — created as a last resort for desperate homeowners — has seen the number of policies it underwrites more than double since 2020.

The problems facing Florida’s homeowners are compounded by the shockingly low levels of flood insurance in a state barely above sea level. The New York Times reports that in the counties under an evacuation order for Hurricane Ian, only 18.5 percent of homes are covered through the National Flood Insurance Program. Of those, only 47.3 percent of homes inside government-designated floodplains have flood insurance, while outside of the area designated a floodplain by the NFIP — areas still very likely to have been damaged by the storm surge — only about 9.4 percent have flood insurance.

Ian, like Sandy in 2012, was more of a flood event than a wind event. As such, traditional homeowners’ and even hurricane insurance is unlikely to cover much of the damage. Those without flood insurance will be left to foot the bill to recover and rebuild, or to rely on the government for assistance.

In fairness, not all of this is DeSantis’ fault. He can’t control the fact that Florida is susceptible to hurricanes, nor can he control whether people have flood insurance or national insurers do business in the state. I’m also not inclined to blame him for the rampant litigation and insurance fraud in the state.

But it’s worth noting that insurance premiums more than doubled during DeSantis’ term. Former governor Charlie Crist, who is DeSantis’ Democratic opponent in his race for reelection, pointed out that “Floridians now pay the highest property insurance premiums in the country.”

Despite a new law allocating $2 billion to a reinsurance fund, which Bankrate says “can help home insurance companies share risk, which lessens the likelihood that any one company will become insolvent,” the damage from Hurricane Ian is likely to far exceed what that reinsurance fund can handle. It’s no surprise, then, that DeSantis is looking to Washington — and to President Biden, a man he routinely denigrates and insults — to bail his state out.

Washington and President Biden should and, I expect, will do just that — because unlike Ron DeSantis, Joe Biden is a decent man. He doesn’t play politics with people’s lives and homes the way DeSantis has done from quite literally the moment he first entered Congress. Biden will help Florida, not because it is politically beneficial to him, but because it is the right thing to do.

DeSantis will, no doubt, try to take credit for that. We should not let him. The man has shown us who he is time and again. The only reason he is advocating federal aid in this disaster is because it’s his own state, one which will suffer immense economic and humanitarian harm without it. Had this hurricane hit a blue state, though, DeSantis would probably be demanding we let our fellow citizens fend for themselves.