Florida ports seek federal money as virus losses mount

File photo of JaxPort
File photo of JaxPort

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Ports Council says Congress needs to allocate $3.5 billion for maritime businesses across the country as talks continue on an economic-stimulus package because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter Monday to U.S. Senate leaders, Florida Ports Council specifically requested $1.5 billion for U.S. seaports and at least $2 billion for other maritime businesses.

Florida Ports Council President Doug Wheeler in the letter pointed to an economic analysis from Martin Associates, which projects the virus can be tied to a potential loss of 169,000 jobs related to cargo- and passenger-ship industries in Florida.

“A survey and review of cargo and passenger activity at Florida’s seaports indicated that COVID-19 will likely result in the loss of 5.6 million tons of liquid bulk cargo, 1.6 million tons of dry bulk cargo, and a loss of 4.9 million passengers at our seaports,” Wheeler wrote.

Overall, the economic impact of the virus on the ports approaches $23 billion, according to the Martin Associates analysis.

Early on, imports — like steel, automobiles and fuel — took a hit.

“We’re starting to see some of this come back,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said the worst damage has been to the cruise industry, with ships docked through the end of October.

“We’re seeing some pretty serious consequences from the pandemic. In some cases as much as 60-70% of port revenue basically gone overnight,” Wheeler said.

Last week, Wheeler released an editorial pushing for congressional assistance for the state’s ports.

In Monday’s letter, Wheeler said stimulus money could be used for emergency response, cleaning, staffing, worker retention, paid leave, purchasing protective health equipment, debt service payments and reducing lost revenue.

“That relief money could be used to provide protection equipment or make modifications,” Wheeler said. “I think we’re learning daily that, whether it’s cruise or cargo operations, they’re not going to look the same as they did nine months ago.”

If ports are forced to shrink, Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson said every Floridian could see the impacts on store shelves.

“Those products aren’t going to be able to get in and out of Florida, so in terms of the economy, ports are almost like breathing air and drinking water,” Wilson said.

Overall, ports supply 900,000 Florida jobs and contribute more than $117 billion to the state’s economy each year.