State anticipates federal hurricane help as Trump rallies in Panhandle

Fog surrounds homes damaged by Hurricane Michael on Oct. 16, 2018, in Mexico Beach, Florida. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – President Donald Trump will be in the Florida Panhandle on Wednesday for a political rally. 

It comes as residents of the hurricane-ravaged area are still waiting for federal relief dollars, but Florida leaders hope the president will come bearing good news.

Florida legislators included nearly $2 billion in their 2019 budget toward helping the Panhandle recover from Hurricane Michael, but Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said it’s not nearly enough.

“The Panhandle was devastated and the federal government has not done its job. D.C. needs to step up,” Bradley said. “So we stepped up because D.C. was not stepping up.”

Trump visited the Panhandle five days after Hurricane Michael made landfall as a Category 5 storm.

Trump’s latest trip to Panama City will be for a political rally.

Bay County voted overwhelmingly for Trump in 2016, with 71% support.

Gov. Ron DeSantis said he intends to be at the rally in Panama City with the president on Wednesday.

DeSantis said he’s hoping the president won't arrive empty-handed.

“Why would you want to come unless you're going to announce more good news,” DeSantis said.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said he feels the same way and pointed out securing relief dollars for Florida is in the national interest.

“The visit to Northwest Florida would really be extra special if it came with a relief package from Congress,” Patronis said. “Most importantly is Tyndall Air Force Base and the whole role that it plays in the national security of our nation. So it's critical that Congress address it.”

In April, the president announced the federal government would pick up the full tab for the first 45 days of hurricane recovery. 

Even if Congress isn’t able to come to an agreement on a relief package, DeSantis said there are things the president can do on his own to help.

“I had two asks. One was 45 days of 100% reimbursement. He gave us that,” DeSantis said. “The other was to up the cost share for all reimbursement from 75% to 90%, so we're asking him to do that.”

Arriving without the hoped-for good news might impact Trump’s bid for reelection in 2020.

The conservative-leaning Panhandle is crucial to a Republican victory in the country’s largest swing state.