Six counties were added to a federal disaster declaration as President Joe Biden on Saturday visited the state and pledged support for rural North Florida communities hammered by Hurricane Idalia.
“We’re here to help the state as long as it takes,” Biden said during an appearance in Live Oak.
After landing Saturday afternoon at Gainesville Regional Airport, Biden took an aerial tour of the region with Live Oak Police Chief Keith Davis.
Biden was joined by U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., but Gov. Ron DeSantis did not take part.
Biden said he wasn’t “disappointed” with the governor’s absence as the two have been in “frequent touch” since the storm made landfall on Wednesday. DeSantis is running for the Republican nomination for president.
“He may have had other reasons, but he did help us plan this,” Biden said. “He sat with FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) and decided where we should go. Where to do the least disruption.”
A statement Friday from the governor’s office pointed to concerns about interrupting recovery efforts.
“We don’t have any plans for the governor to meet with the president tomorrow,” DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said in the statement. “In these rural communities, and so soon after impact, the security preparations alone that would go into setting up such a meeting would shut down ongoing recovery efforts.”
DeSantis spent Saturday afternoon touring Keaton Beach in Taylor County, where Idalia made landfall about 7:45 a.m. Wednesday. His calendar said, in part, that he visited first responders at the Keaton Beach Fire Station and later went to Horseshoe Beach, where meals were being distributed.
Biden credited Scott for attending and discussing recovery efforts.
“He came, talked about … how incredible, what an incredible job the federal government was doing. And I found that reassuring,” Biden said.
Before the president’s tour, DeSantis’ office announced that Columbia, Gilchrist, Hernando, Jefferson, Madison and Pasco counties had been added to the federal disaster declaration. A declaration issued Thursday covered Citrus, Dixie, Hamilton, Lafayette, Levy, Suwannee and Taylor counties.DeSantis asked Friday for the declaration to be expanded.
The declaration in part, makes federal money available for people affected by the storm. It further opens the door to such assistance as grants for temporary housing and home repairs and low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.
Money will also be available to help with debris removal and emergency-protective measures in the designated counties. The federal government will pick up 100 percent of such costs for a 30-day period “of the state’s choosing,” according to the White House.
Jim Turner – News Service of Florida