Florida Governor Proposes $258 Million in Relief for Ports

Florida governor proposes assistance for the ports that lost revenues in pandemic
Florida's 15 ports would receive relief under a COVID-19 assistance proposal (JAX Port)

Published Mar 21, 2021 11:47 AM by The Maritime Executive

After repeated calls for relief, Florida’s seaports which were hit hard by the pandemic may finally receive some government assistance to make up for their massive shortfalls in revenues over the past year. Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis sent a proposal to the Florida legislature for COVID-19 relief for the ports under the federal American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.

Under the federal legislation signed into law by President Joe Biden, $195 billion of the total $1.9 trillion is allocated to a state and local recovery fund. The funds are to be proportioned based on unemployment levels in each state and while the specifics are not finalized, Florida might receive as much as $10 billion. In addition, local Florida governments might receive as much as $7 billion.

DeSantis proposed to the legislature that $1.4 billion be allocated for immediate use in the state and in total he outlined $4.1 billion for state programs for economic development, infrastructure, and the workforce over the next three years. Included in the transportation work program is $258 million in supplemental funding for Florida’s seaports.

"One of the areas of Florida that's been hardest hit throughout the pandemic has been our seaports," said DeSantis. The monies he is proposing for the seaports are equal to the lost revenues since the start of the pandemic.

“On behalf of the state’s 15 deep-water seaports, the Florida Ports Council extends tremendous gratitude to Governor DeSantis for recommending critical relief funds for Florida’s ports as they continue to deliver necessities to businesses and consumers,” said Florida Ports Council President & CEO Doug Wheeler in a statement responding to the governor’s proposal. “Decreased passenger activity due to the pandemic is estimated to have cost the state 169,000 jobs and nearly $23 billion in economic activity through 2020. The advocacy of our Governor, as well as the Department of Transportation Secretary, Kevin Thibault, has provided Florida seaports with the support they need to respond to significant economic impacts that we expect to continue while the passenger vessel industry remains suspended.”

Hardest hit among Florida’s ports were the ones that draw a large portion of their revenues from the cruise industry. PortMiami, the largest cruise port has been working with the cruise lines waiving lay berth and harbor fees meaning that its revenues are mostly dependent on its small container terminal operations. Similarly, Port Canaveral’, which is the state’s second largest cruise port, reports since March 2020 it has lost 79 percent of its operating revenues leading to a 43 percent reduction in its workforce, $10 million year-over-year reduction in operating expenses, and deferred more than $119 million in capital projects for two to five years. 

“COVID-19 has caused unprecedented disruption to the global economy and supply chain, bringing cruise business to a halt and reducing cargo volumes and revenue for Florida ports,” said JAXPORT CEO Eric Green responding to the governor’s proposal. “Florida’s seaports are critically important to the state’s economy. Cargo and cruise activity through Jacksonville’s seaport alone generates nearly 139,300 jobs in Florida and more than $31.1 billion in annual economic impact for the region and state.”

The relief for Florida’s 15 seaports will depend on the release of funds from the federal government and final allocations as set by the legislature as part of the state’s upcoming budget. However, the news of potential support was welcomed by all the ports and especially the cruise ports which continue to face uncertainty as to when cruising will resume.