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Fla. Ports Council Seeks $3.5B In Federal Aid As Pandemic Takes Economic Toll

The Zim vessel Cape Sounio at JAXPORT in March 2019.
The Zim vessel Cape Sounio at JAXPORT in March 2019.

The Florida Ports Council is asking Congress for $3.5 billion in aid to help U.S. seaports and maritime businesses recover from the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic as talks continue on an economic-stimulus package.

In  a letter sent to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer this week,  Florida Ports Council President and CEO Doug Wheeler said nearly 169,000 jobs could be lost in Florida due to the impact COVID-19 has had on port activity, citing an analysis conducted by  Martin Associates.

“A survey and review of cargo and passenger activity at Florida’s seaports indicated that COVID-19 will likely result in the loss of 5.6 million tons of liquid bulk cargo, 1.6 million tons of dry bulk cargo, and a loss of 4.9 million passengers at our seaports. The loss in total economic activity in the state of Florida resulting from the loss of cargo and cruise activity at Florida seaports is estimated at almost $23 billion,” Wheeler wrote.

The Martin Associates analysis was done using statewide modeling, so it’s hard to know the true impact COVID-19 has had on local maritime industries, but a spokeswoman for the Jacksonville Port Authority tells WJCT News that revenue is down 7% ($3 million) this fiscal year and is expected to be down about 11% ($8 million) by the end of fiscal year 2020, which ends on September 30.

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“These declines are compared to last year’s revenue and are due in large part to the suspension of cruise service and some cancelled cargo vessel sailings,” JAXPORT Public Information Officer Chelsea Kavanagh wrote in an email to WJCT News.

JAXPORT has already received $50,000 in reimbursement money from FEMA for expenses related to increased sanitation and other measures being taken in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

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In his letter to Senate leaders, Wheeler recommends making at least $1.5 billion in federal aid available to U.S. seaports, including JAXPORT, and at least $2 billion for other maritime businesses, to be used for things like emergency response, cleaning, staffing, workforce retention, paid leave, protective health equipment, debt service payments, and lost revenue.

“JAXPORT is part of the larger Florida Ports Council request and supports relief for the nation’s seaports and maritime businesses. We have not yet made a request for any specific dollar amount for JAXPORT,” Kavanagh wrote.

Brendan Rivers can be reached at brivers@wjct.org, 904-358-6396 or on Twitter at @BrendanRivers.

Copyright 2020 WJCT News 89.9. To see more, visit WJCT News 89.9.