Gov. Rick Scott visited Key West on Friday to urge residents to prepare for the 2018 hurricane season. But many families in the Lower and Middle Keys are still dealing with damage from Hurricane Irma nine months after the storm struck.
"Everybody remembers what happened last year with Irma," said Scott, the term-limited Republican who is down to his last seven months in office and is running for the U.S. Senate. "We all know there's still a lot of work to do but I can tell you that everybody is working hard to make it happen."
Scott said $616 million is on its way to Florida through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, with money set aside for affordable housing. He said Florida's total federal take will be $1.4 billion.
The governor’s office announced last month that the state has submitted a $616 million request to HUD for ongoing Hurricane Irma recovery efforts.
The Florida Keys are still awaiting millions in reimbursement from FEMA, nine months after the storm.
"But we're waiting for approval from HUD to get more money down to the Keys on housing issues," Scott said Friday. "We're going to keep doing everything we can. We've already done quite a bit but that will help us a lot." The first installment of $616 million "is going to be directed where Irma had problems, " he said.
The federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery program money would assist businesses affected by Irma, repair homes, build new affordable rental units and buy land for affordable housing.
The program requires at least 80 percent of the money go to the hardest-hit counties and ZIP codes. The state's request includes Brevard, Broward, Collier, Duval, Lee, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Orange, Polk and Volusia counties.
Scott said, "We'll get that money out as fast as possible and push it down to the local level."
Asked whether climate change has played a role in recent storm seasons, Scott didn't answer directly.
"Here's what I know," Scott said. "In my job, I've got to be very results oriented. We've been doing quite a bit on beach renourishment, flood mitigation. We have money in the budget this year. I think it's Miami-Dade County, they can look at how they get ready for sea level rise. My focus is on how do I solve problems."
State Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam praised Scott for his leadership during the immediate aftermath of Irma, which struck Sept. 10.
"Floridians were safer because of the way that you and your team approached the storm," said Putnam, a Republican running for governor. "It was an example for the nation in crisis leadership."
Putnam said it's important to constantly remind everyone to have a plan, no matter what their hurricane experience is.
"Please learn the right lessons of the last storm," he said. "No matter how many notches of hurricanes you have on your belt — Charley, Frances, Jeanne, Irma — that doesn't mean you're going to continue to be lucky. It means you need to continue to be prepared."
The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.