Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently signed a $101.5 billion budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year that includes $250 million in federal stimulus dollars for Florida's 15 seaports.
Florida Ports Council Interim CEO Mike Rubin says he anticipates the funding in this year’s budget will be allocated to ports that have been most impacted by the freeze on cruise travel. He expects the funds to be allocated to the state’s ports this summer.
Last month, the U.S. Treasury department issued guidance about how Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds that were part of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 were to be used. It stipulated that though funds could be used for economic and workforce development as well as to assist the travel, tourism and hospitality industries, both would have to show how the funds directly addressed the negative impact of the Covid crisis, reports the Jacksonville Business Journal.
“The number and issues that were done by [the Florida Department of Transportation] were just for the cruise ports, but there is certainly an ability that some can go to cargo losses,” Rubin said. “Cargo has done well. …Obviously, the hurt is on the cruise revenue side, so that’s where the revenue is going to go.”
Considering airports and local transit received federal funding to assist their recovery from the depths of the pandemic, Rubin said it was victory for the state’s seaports — particularly Port Canaveral, PortMiami and Port Everglades — to obtain stimulus funds.
Port Canaveral — which derives 80% of its revenue from cruises — has had to delay or scale back some capital projects due to the Covid-19 pandemic's impact on the cruise industry. "This has been an extremely challenging year for Port Canaveral. When cruising shut down last year, we saw an immediate drop in revenue streams," Capt. John Murray, CEO of Port Canaveral, previously said.
“We are on the cusp of resolving outstanding issues, whether its simulated voyage or proof of vaccine, we will have resolution of those issues within the next two months and get the cruise lines up and running by the end of the year,” Rubin said.
“Economic relief for our ports ensures we can continue to do the important work we do to connect Florida’s businesses to the global economy, create and protect Florida jobs, and do our part to help lead the economic recovery of our state,” said Jaxport CEO Eric Green.
Florida got nearly $10 billion as part of the $350 billion that was set aside in American Rescue Plan to help state and local governments emerge from the pandemic. At the start of the legislative session, the governor recommended devoting $258 million of the American Rescue Plan funds Florida received go toward seaports.
Though the final number wound up being less than DeSantis’ recommendation, Rubin is not complaining in the slightest.
“The $250 million is great,” Rubin said. “Would another $8 million have been nice? Absolutely. But, $250 is fantastic. …There was nothing negative in the reduction of $8 million. It was the legislature allocating money like they always do.”