Ahead of Hurricane Michael’s Wednesday landfall in the Florida panhandle, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, and Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig to assist communities affected by the storm.
This major hurricane, Rubio told them, is expected to cause catastrophic conditions with winds in excess of 145 miles per hour, and detrimental storm surges.
Specifically, the senator urged Sessions to “work with federal, state, and local law enforcement to prepare to investigate and prosecute illegal activity related to Hurricane Michael and its aftermath.” He requested Azar to “continue to coordinate with state and local governments to ensure they are prepared and able to quickly respond to Floridians once Michael passes.” He also asked Rettig to “pre-approve relief to taxpayers residing in areas that are going to be impacted by the storm.”
-- The full text of Rubio's letter to Sessions:
"Dear Attorney General Sessions:
"As you know, Hurricane Michael is expected to make landfall in Florida’s panhandle today. This powerful storm is currently forecast to have devastating impacts on Florida’s communities. In anticipation, I urge the Department of Justice to work with federal, state, and local law enforcement to prepare to investigate and prosecute illegal activity related to Hurricane Michael and its aftermath.
"Law enforcement professionals in Florida have a strong history of working together in post-disaster recovery and response efforts, and I have complete confidence that they will meet the challenges this storm may bring. As such, I ask the department to promptly respond to requests raised by state and local law enforcement for assistance related to the storm.
"While we know the overwhelming majority of Floridians are outstanding citizens, we must ensure that bad actors are not exploiting those left vulnerable after a disaster. These criminals target storm victims in multiple ways, including identity theft, fraudulent insurance claims, fraudulent solicitations of charitable donations, property theft, price gouging, unscrupulous contractors, and looting. Special attention must be paid to protect the hundreds of thousands of seniors who call Florida home, and who are often targeted and scammed in these situations.
"As the Florida panhandle braces for Hurricane Michael, I request the Department of Justice to appropriately assist communities adversely affected by this storm.
"Thank you for your attention to this matter."
-- The full text of Rubio's letter to Azar:
"Dear Secretary Azar:
"Thank you for your continued leadership in response to Hurricane Florence, and your efforts to protect Americans in Florida and elsewhere from Hurricane Michael. Your department’s efforts are critical to ensuring a rapid, effective response that will save lives.
"To that end, I respectfully ask that you continue to coordinate with state and local governments to ensure they are prepared and able to quickly respond to Floridians once Michael passes. As requested with previous storms, I would appreciate updates about ongoing coordination with health care providers, including hospitals, inpatient nursing facilities, dialysis centers, and home health providers. Specifically, has the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ distributed information about best practices for evacuating vulnerable patients, if needed, and how to provide necessary medical services to patients that are not evacuated? Additionally, what steps have been taken to prevent tragic deaths, such as the loss of seniors at the Hollywood Hills, Florida nursing home?
"Additionally, I respectfully request your department to expedite the review of, and to the extent possible, approve any waivers requested by the State of Florida under Sections 1135 or 1812 of the Social Security Act that will ensure emergency response teams have the tools and flexibilities necessary in the wake of the hurricane. In light of this, I also request an update on any pending communications regarding enrolling out-of-state providers to ensure that Floridians enrolled in Medicaid are able to access care in another state, if forced to evacuate.
"I look forward to working with you to ensure Florida is prepared to respond to the effects of Hurricane Michael. Thank you for your attention to these matters."
-- The full text of Rubio's letter to Commissioner Rettig:
"Dear Commissioner Rettig:
"As Hurricane Michael approaches the Florida panhandle, I ask that you pre-approve relief to taxpayers residing in areas that are going to be impacted by the storm. Many families will need to draw from their retirement accounts for immediate and necessary financial assistance to prepare for and recover from this storm. I urge that you eliminate barriers to this liquidity by administrative discretion to the maximum procedural relief possible.
"As you are aware, individuals who withdraw or take a loan from their qualified employer plans before the age of 59 ½ face early withdrawal penalties that may include a ban on contributions for six months and a 10 percent surtax. Individuals are also limited to a narrow definition as to what qualifies as a “hardship” distribution. As a result of this natural disaster, many Floridians may have to pull from their retirement accounts to rebuild their homes, buy vehicles, and pay for the general costs displacement.
"As such, I ask that you help Floridians and others affected by this storm recover from this disaster as quickly as possible by providing them with the same penalty relief you provided to those impacted by the 2017 hurricanes. I also request that you relax the definition of a “hardship” distribution to include recovery efforts for Hurricane Michael while also removing the six-month ban on contributions. Additionally, I ask that you allow employees to adopt leave-based donation programs for Hurricane Michael that allows employees to forego vacation, sick, or personal leave in exchange for cash payments to qualifying charitable organizations.
"Thank you for your attention to this matter and I look forward to working with you."