TALLAHASSEE --- Starting Friday, shoppers in Florida emerging from coronavirus stay-at-home orders can avoid paying sales taxes while putting together disaster-preparation stockpiles for the 2020 hurricane season.
In addition to helping residents buy everything from coolers to generators, Florida Retail Federation President and CEO Scott Shalley hopes the seven-day tax “holiday” can provide a boost for businesses suffering from the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think you're going to see, again, additional incentives from the retailers to encourage sales for disaster preparation,” Shalley said. “You'll continue to see, of course, all of the safe and smart shopping measures in terms of social distancing and sanitizing. But you're going to see an emphasis on sales of batteries, coolers and those sorts of things that help people get prepared now.”
The state-discounted items will coincide with wider hurricane-season enticements, some already being offered online, from businesses such as Lowe’s, Home Depot and Harbor Freight.
Still, federal officials have expressed concern about people being prepared for disasters this year. Hurricane season will start Monday and continue through Nov. 30.
“Social distancing and other (federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidance to keep you safe from COVID-19 may impact the disaster preparedness plan you had in place, including what is in your go-kit, evacuation routes, shelters and more,” Carlos Castillo, acting deputy administrator for resilience for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said in a prepared statement. “With tornado season at its peak, hurricane season around the corner, and flooding, earthquakes and wildfires a risk year-round, it is time to revise and adjust your emergency plan now.”
FEMA’s storm-prep checklist includes flashlights, batteries, portable radios, multi-purpose tools, emergency fuel, personal hygiene items, cell-phone chargers, emergency contact lists and copies of personal documents, along with supplies of water, food and medication for three days to two weeks, depending on different scenarios involving evacuation or riding out the disaster at home.
Florida lawmakers included the disaster-preparation tax holiday in a $47.7 million tax package (HB 7097) approved in March. The $5.6 million tax holiday will last through June 4.
During the period, shoppers will be able to avoid paying sales taxes on items such as reusable ice packs that cost $10 or less; flashlights and lanterns costing $20 or less; gasoline and diesel fuel containers costing $25 or less. coolers and batteries costing $30 or less; and radios and tarps costing $50 or less.
The biggest-ticket items included in the holiday are portable generators that cost $750 or less.
The discounts are not available at businesses in airports or at public-lodging facilities and can’t be used to buy car and boat batteries. The discounts also can’t be offered at theme parks and entertainment complexes.
The tax bill passed in March and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis also includes a three-day back-to-school tax holiday on school supplies, clothes and computer equipment. That holiday will be held from Aug. 7 through Aug. 9.