Women’s group takes Hurricane Michael recovery battle to Tallahassee

“We do indeed feel very forgotten today. We are in the midst of an extreme housing crisis all over the Panhandle,” Burg said during a House Appropriations Committee meeting Tuesday. “We have families out of their homes, myself included.”

TALLAHASSEE — Jennifer Burg went over her notes before her big speech at the Florida Capitol on Tuesday but ended up speaking from the heart when the time came.

“We do indeed feel very forgotten today. We are in the midst of an extreme housing crisis all over the Panhandle,” Burg said during a House Appropriations Committee meeting Tuesday. “We have families out of their homes, myself included.”

Burg and Mitzi Prater, members of Michael’s Angels — a newly formed women’s group advocating for affected communities — traveled to the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee on Tuesday in a quest for funding, housing and solutions from the Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office for a community that fears being overlooked.

“We lit a fire,” Burg said after the individual meetings. “I’m proud of what we accomplished.”

Michael’s Angels has taken off faster than members could have imagined, Burg said. The group is modeled after The Women of the Storm, a group that advocated for recovery from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“We mean business,” said Burg, whose Panama City home was damaged. “We came up with our mission statement on Sunday. Our mission statement is: ‘We are a group of warrior women determined to restore, rebuild and ensure the rebirth of our forgotten coast.’ ”

One thing they are seeking is for the federal government to take on a greater share of the costs of debris removal, looking for 150 days.

DeSantis recently announced there will be 100 percent federal reimbursement for storm debris removal for 45 days. Burg said Michael’s Angels is “beyond grateful” for the 45-day reimbursement since it is a “huge step in the right direction for our communities,” though the group is pushing for more.

Rep. Jay Trumbull of Panama City sat in on some of the meetings Michael’s Angels had with other legislators. Trumbull also discussed the recovery and needs of the area, including debris cleanup costs exceeding budgets for some small towns in Bay County.

Legislators that the group met with seemed receptive, Burg said.

“I’m seeing astronomical numbers. We don’t yet have our hands around everything in terms of how much it’s going to be, who’s paying for what, where the federal government is helping, what have we already done to this point,” Rep. Travis Cummings, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said during one of the meetings. “This is a multi-year deal. We’ve just got to be strategic and find out what to fund, how to fund it and where’s the most impact.”

The committee heard a presentation of DeSantis’ proposed 2019-20 budget, which includes $271 million for matching federal funds for federally declared disasters and $765 million to address housing and job training needs in recovery zones. Cummings said legislators haven’t made a policy decision and the budget didn’t have “a lot of specifics,” though he added the budget “clearly had a lot of relief dollars in there” and DeSantis has been attentive to the Panhandle.

DeSantis has made several visits to Bay County and other devastated communities since taking office, during which he met with local leaders to hear concerns about cleanup reimbursement, and said recovery from Hurricane Michael is a priority.

Burg also invited state representatives to visit Bay County to see the aftermath, which Rep. Kristin Jacobs and Rep. Kionne McGhee said they would do.

Prater and Burg also met with Sen. George Gainer of Panama City, who has been active in recovery efforts, to thank him and said they were willing to help him. Gainer said state and FEMA officials are attentive to the area’s needs and working in the recovery.

Michael’s Angels plans to hold group meetings. To get involved or for more information, visit the group’s Facebook page at facebook.com/Michaels-Angels-1926580620802811.

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