Ten years ago on Wednesday, Ted Deutch was sworn in as a member of Congress. He had planned to mark the anniversary as part of his campaign for a sixth term representing Boca Raton, West Boca and portions of Broward County.
Now, however, Deutch doesn’t “have any idea” when a campaign might start. It is far from his mind. Like most representatives, he’s home, not in Washington. Deutch’s four offices—the main one on Glades Road and three in Broward —are closed. Everyone is working remotely.
“It’s amazing how productive you can be,” Deutch said this week, “when you can’t leave your home.”
Productivity matters more than ever, as Deutch’s constituents deal with the COVID-19 pandemic and the government responses to the resultant economic collapse. With the legislative branch dispersed, it might seem that Congress is providing little oversight of the nearly $2 trillion emergency stimulus. Deutch disagrees.
“In some ways,” he said, “(the oversight is) more direct than ever. We’re hearing every day about businesses that can’t access” money. “There’s no lost step.”
Deutch added, “So it’s real time, all the time. We can press the administration and identify what needs to be in the next bill.”
Deutch is a Democrat. He said, though, “I work with the White House now.” His main source of frustration is not President Trump. It’s Florida’s leading Republican, Gov. Ron DeSantis.
“We have cooperation in D.C.,” Deutch said. “Here, the governor isn’t willing to engage.” Based on news reports from across Florida, that gripe crosses party lines.
“I only want him to succeed,” Deutch said of DeSantis. “But he needs to provide more information. He needs to be more transparent.”
Among other things, DeSantis won’t provide information about confirmed cases in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, many of which are in Deutch’s district. A DeSantis aide persuaded the Holland & Knight law firm not to represent the Miami Herald in a lawsuit seeking that information. The lawsuit will continue, with several news organizations as plaintiffs.
Deutch and his colleagues in the Florida delegation are dealing with assistance questions on two levels.
With the state, it’s qualifying for unemployment benefits on the swamped Department of Economic Opportunity website. “We’ve heard from so many people, Deutch said, “who couldn’t get through.” The state now is also accepting claims in paper.
Florida is one of the chintziest states; unemployment benefits max out at $275 per week, and less than 25 percent of applicants are accepted. To get the additional $600 per week—for four months—under the federal stimulus, Floridians first have to qualify with the state.
Because of the system’s delays, DeSantis said recently that benefits would start with the loss of a job, not the successful filing of a claim. “But has that happened?” Deutch asked. His office is trying to find out.
With the federal government, the issue is whether businesses can qualify for some of the $350 billion in stimulus loans. Some banks, Deutch said, have “created their own conditions that never were part of the legislation.” He wants the next bill to include more money and to give community banks a greater role.
Finally, Deutch said his office spent considerable time with the State Department arranging to bring home constituents who had been caught overseas when Trump instituted travel bans. He believes that all have returned.
Deutch self-quarantined last month after his son, who had been in Spain, lost his sense of smell. That’s a virus symptom. He was not tested, and is fine. One staff member has tested positive. So has the spouse of another. Both have recovered, with no aftereffects.
Mask in place, Deutch goes on Facebook Live each night to provide updates. He acknowledges the challenges but tries to inject hope as often as possible. “You see a lot of goodness in people.”
One way or another, Deutch will face an election in November. Right now, however, he and his staff are trying to get themselves and their constituents through April.
Boca embraces virtual
Having shown that the city can hold virtual meetings, Boca Raton will hold more of them.
During Tuesday night’s regular meeting, council members noted how virus-related issues seem to rush at the city each day and require a quick response. Because of Florida’s Sunshine Law, council members can’t talk about those issues with each other except during meetings, which normally take place only twice a month.
They talked about adding a meeting in April, to be held next Tuesday, but the turnaround time for the staff to compile a full agenda would have been unworkable. The compromise was to schedule a workshop meeting for 6 p.m. Tuesday. The council can’t take any action, but members could tee up something for the April 28 meeting.
Opening boat ramp?
One likely subject for discussion will be whether to open Boca Raton’s boat ramp to commercial fishermen.
Under the county’s emergency order, ramps are closed to recreational boaters. That order, though, allows commercial anglers to use them if a city agrees. Council members have received emails asking for that change, especially since some people fish commercially in addition to a regular job they may have lost.
Like so many aspects of life under virus restrictions, this issue is complicated.
Years ago, the county gave Boca Raton money to build the ramp. So county residents also can use it.
Before the virus restrictions hit, roughly 400 people in the county held commercial fishing licenses. Twenty-five live in Boca Raton.
In the last month, another 400 people have applied for and received online commercial licenses. About 40 of those live in Boca Raton. Council members rightly suspect that many—if not all—are recreational boaters seeking to get around the ramp restriction.
So the council wants to allow the legitimate operators to make a living. That would require a system by which city workers—probably park rangers—would monitor who uses the ramp.
Beyond that, I don’t see any other major change before May. The council isn’t ready to budge on reopening parks. The beach is closed under the county’s order. Despite pressure from residents to move sooner, any reopening would be best coordinated with similar reopening in Delray Beach and Deerfield Beach, so that one beach didn’t get swamped.
Some of that “goodness” Deutch spoke about happens every day between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m. in Mizner Park.
That’s when Hospitality Helping Hands—or H3— distributes meals. It’s a project of restaurant entrepreneur Rodney Mayo, whose Sub-Culture Group includes side-by-side restaurants The Dubliner and Kapow! Noodle Bar. Both are closed for table service. Now people line up there for the free meals.
Mayo started H3 to help unemployed hospitality workers. He had to lay off 650 himself. Boca Raton resident and Mayo associate Vaughan Dugan addressed the council Tuesday and made a pitch for help.
Some already has come. Councilman Andy Thomson donated $25,000 from his campaign fund surplus. Thomson also shows up each day to hand out meals prepared by some of those employees. Dugan said H3 recently gave away its 5,000th meal.
Obviously, though, the need is growing. Dugan choked up when he talked about seeing familiar faces in line. “I had no idea that they needed help.”
The council responded with $10,000 and a promise to promote H3. Mayor Scott Singer agreed, though he cautioned that “there will be more” groups seeking financial assistance. Probably many more. But perhaps none will be more deserving, given how restrictions have ravaged the hospitality industry.
That $10,000 will supply H3 for two days. To donate and/or volunteer visit: hospitalityhelpinghands.org
Home buying on hold
Among the miserable economic reports last week was a 42 percent drop in homebuilder confidence. Many potential buyers can’t leave their home and/or are worried about losing their jobs. Real estate is a part of the South Florida economic base.
For some optimism, though, consider the March figure still is above where it was at several points during the last recession. Wells Fargo also reports that the worst effects at the moment are the Northeast and Midwest.
Beach and Park District also goes virtual
At 5:15 p.m. Monday, the Greater Boca Beach and Park District will hold its first virtual meeting.
Instructions for public participation are attached the meeting agenda on the district’s website—MyBocaParks.org. Residents who want to email comments in advance must do so by 5 p.m. Monday. Those who attend by phone can comment during the meeting, as happened this week with the city council.
Topics include the district’s agreement with Florida Atlantic University, Ocean Strand and the district’s finances. Not on the agenda is golf. It seems months ago that the district and city were trying to finalize agreement on a new municipal course. Like so many other issues, that one is on hold.