Key sectors of the Tampa-St. Petersburg economy will get a boost from a massive funding bill that’s just passed the U.S. House and Senate.
National headlines have highlighted the $900 billion in Covid-19 relief in the package, including $600 direct economic payments to individuals, extended federal unemployment assistance, another round of Paycheck Protection Program funding, and a federal moratorium on evictions through the end of January.
But it also includes funding to research red tide and other harmful algae blooms which took a bite out of the local tourism industry in 2018. It has grants for live event venues that employ hundreds of people locally and provides pay raises for the military, including the U.S. Coast Guard, which has one of its largest commands in St. Petersburg.
“I’ve always believed a budget is a statement of our priorities as a nation, and for me there is no bigger priority than hearing from my neighbors in Pinellas on what matters most to them and delivering on those issues. While this bill brings home major wins to families, veterans, and servicemembers from Clearwater to Pinellas Point, we know we must bring an end to this pandemic and build back better for our country and our communities,” Rep. Charlie Crist, D-St. Petersburg, said in a news release.
Crist and two other area members of the U.S. House — Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor and Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Tampa — voted for the $2.3 trillion measure, as did Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida.
Sen. Rick Scott, also a Florida Republican, was one of six U.S. senators who voted against the package.
I supported and fought for many of the Covid provisions in last night’s bill.
Unfortunately they were attached to an omnibus spending bill that was thousands of pages long and chock full of handouts to special interests and wasteful spending. I couldn’t support it. pic.twitter.com/7nsFYMj6M8
— Rick Scott (@SenRickScott) December 22, 2020
Crist’s news release cited more than a dozen local concerns that will be addressed by the measure.
- $25 million for Veteran Treatment Courts to give veterans in need access to treatment instead of jail time.
- $13 million to research red tide and other harmful algae blooms, an increase of 30 percent from last year.
- $1 million for a new program aimed at detecting and monitoring harmful algae blooms like red tide in the Gulf of Mexico to better prepare for and respond to algae outbreaks.
- Continued funding for Community Health Centers like those in Clearwater, Largo and St. Pete through 2023, to provide low- and no-cost healthcare.
- $12.84 billion to fully fund the United States Coast Guard, including a 3 percent pay raise and investments in Coast Guard infrastructure and equipment.
- $15 billion for Save Our Stages grants for live venue, theatrical, museum and performing arts organization operators.
- $270 million in base funding plus a $3 billion emergency Covid allocation for the Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) Fund, which provides affordable, accessible capital to low-income families, communities of color, and small businesses typically shut out by big banks. This includes $8.5 million for the Small Dollar Loan Program.
- $7 million to Tampa International Airport as part of $30 million in reimbursements to airports that purchased explosive detection equipment after 9/11 to keep passengers safe.
- $50 million for shore protection projects to preserve coastal habitats and protect Floridians and local economies from storm surge.
- $3.45 billion for Community Development Block Grants with a focus on aging-friendly home modifications grants, such as installing grab bars and ramps, widening doors, and making bathtubs walk-in, in order to empower seniors who wish to age in their own homes safely and affordably.
- $167.5 million for the National Endowment of the Arts, funding that will help support the arts community in St. Pete and across Pinellas that have been particularly hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.
- $5 million for veterans to access clinical trials at National Cancer Institutes, such as Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.
- $100 million for the Reintegration of Ex-Offenders Program to help returning citizens receive employment and training they would otherwise find difficult to obtain as they reenter society.
- $97 million for YouthBuild, to help mitigate the Pinellas car theft problem and provide training and employment to underserved, at-risk young adults.
- $87 billion for the Department of Transportation to tackle traffic congestion like 34th Street in Pinellas Park by including millions in grants for transportation planning, and billions in investments for highway and transit construction and improvement.
- $2.5 million for Regional Ocean Partnerships.
- $31 million to fully fund the C.W. Bill Young Cell Transplantation program for people in need of marrow or cord blood transplants.
- Extension of the solar tax credit for two additional years.
“This should have happened a long time ago, but politics got in the way,” Bilirakis said in a video posted on Twitter just before the final vote.
I’m getting ready to vote on the #PandemicReliefPackage this evening. While this should have been passed months ago, I’m glad to finally be getting relief to those who are hurting the most. Click on the video below to learn more about the relief measures.https://t.co/jZh2Ycdury
— Gus Bilirakis (@RepGusBilirakis) December 21, 2020