Legislators respond to local pleas for more relief money

BAY COUNTY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - State leaders are responding on the heels of Thursday's emotional press conference hosted by Bay District Schools Superintendent Bill Husfelt.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patrons issued the following statement: "Hearing Superintendent Husfelt’s pleas yesterday were heartbreaking and his pleas are ones that ripple throughout the entire area. It’s infuriating that Congress went on a two-week vacation while communities are still trying to rebuild and more people could lose their jobs. Congress needs to pass desperately needed funding immediately.

I’ve been beating the drum that insurance companies and contractors must step up. The quicker insurance companies and contractors do their job, the quicker we can rebuild homes and stabilize our local economy.

Federal funding must be given to this area so we can be made whole again.”

During the press conference, Husfelt said, "It seems so far that neither Tallahassee nor D.C. plan to help us to climb out the abyss we're in right now... And without guaranteed funding for the next year, we will be forced to cut or lay off up to 600 employees."

Both local leaders and state lawmakers alike are growing frustrated with the slow process of relief funding.

Florida State Senator George Gainer said, "They're not moving as fast as we need them to, as fast as we want them to. But they are moving and they're trying to help us."

The frustration is equally felt on the federal level.

Senator Marco Rubio said, "Real people have no home to go back to, communities that have been wiped out and local governments have taken on debt to fund these projects and deserve to be reimbursed like we promised them we would."

Cindy Fowler is the Chief Negotiator for the Associatin of Bay County Educators. She said the lack of funding to the district's school system presents broader economic repercussions.

"People will leave the area. Let's say there's a mother and father that both work for the school district and both of them get cut. They're gonna leave the area. There's a teacher shortage nationally--they can surely find a job somewhere else," said Fowler

For his part, Husfelt issued the following statement saying: "Since yesterday I've had a lot of feedback from community members who support our efforts to increase awareness about the funding crisis. Please understand that while I am definitely advocating for the operational money needed by Bay District Schools, I am concerned about the relief needed by everyone in our area.

I think it's easy for people to assume that 3,679 fewer students automatically equates to fewer employees needed but that actually couldn't be further from the truth right now. Our storm-traumatized students need smaller class sizes, they need the help of more mental health counselors than we have and they need the loving attention of more, not fewer, employees. Since February, we've had to baker act 41 students and our crisis teams have averted another 52 with their swift interventions. Since last fall, we've referred almost 800 students to outside mental health providers. Our kids are suffering and we've got to have the funding we need to help them.

I hope everyone will reach out to whichever decision makers they deem appropriate in Tallahassee and in Washington. Representatives Trumbull and Drake and Senators Gainer and Montford are doing all they can in Tallahassee. Congressman Dunn and Senators Scott and Rubio are doing all they can in Washington. This is not a Democrats. vs Republican issue ... this is a people of Bay County issue. We need a bi-partisan effort, on both levels, to address the needs of our community and we need it sooner rather than later."