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MARIANNA - Gov. Ron DeSantis' big announcement Thursday, delivered in front of the shambled Jackson County Road Department facility, is one that will result in "millions of dollars" saved for Washington County, according to Chairman Tray Hawkins of Washington County Board of County Commissioners.
The governor announced the Federal Emergency Management Agency would extend the days of full reimbursement for debris clean up from five to 45 days. The pronouncement came after he met with President Donald Trump Tuesday at the White House to discuss the struggles of the Panhandle areas impacted by Hurricane Michael.
"That is real money that is going to take the burden off the communities here," DeSantis said from the podium. "The people here have fought really hard and the least I can do is stand with them and do whatever I can in my power to make sure the communities in Northwest Florida come back stronger than ever."
Washington County has already hauled about 850,000 yards of debris, and debris still remains. Chairman Hawkins said the announcement is a game-changer because "45 days equals millions of dollars."
"It takes the burden off of us," Hawkins said in an interview moments after the announcement. "Not necessarily the entire burden, but when you go through an event, such as what we just went through, there's been a lot of sleepless nights - not necessarily worry about the debris being picked up - but how we are going to pay for the debris pick up once the bills start coming due."
According to state reports, about 143,000 insurance claims have been filed, which translates into nearly $5.27 billion in insured losses. The number of insurance claims for Washington County were not immediately available by time of press.
"This is hundreds of millions of dollars that is going to be relieved from our local governments and state governments," Florida Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz said, later saying the department is still looking to providing relief to areas impacted by Hurricane Irma and Matthew.
Gov. DeSantis promised he would actively make sure that the impacted areas would not be forgotten as the road to recovery and restoration is a long one ahead. He suggested more federal requests for general damages is coming down the pipe, as well.
"People forget about things that happen," DeSantis said in response to a reporter's question about his plans to keep the Panhandle from being forgotten. "The Panhandle and our state tends to get less coverage than some of the other places. By me coming here, we're obviously trying to solve the problem, but we also want to shine a light ... on just how bad the storm was."