This summer will mark the 20th year that the state of Florida has encouraged residents to prepare for hurricane season by offering a tax-free period to purchase critical supplies.

The incentive has saved Floridians millions of dollars, but most importantly, the Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday has undoubtedly saved Floridians’ lives.

Over the past two decades, the sales tax exemption has grown from covering a few essentials to a comprehensive list extending well beyond what is traditionally considered a hurricane supply.

In that first year, tax discounts were limited to purchases of flashlights, lanterns, gas cans, batteries, coolers, first aid kits, two-way radios, tarps and generators. Today, those items are still tax-free during the holiday, but the list now includes items needed to prepare one’s home for a hurricane, as well as ride out a storm at home or evacuate the region.

With hurricanes, we learn as we go. Below are four areas in which Florida has updated the sales tax holiday to ensure residents are prepared:

  • Pets: Dogs, cats and other animals are now included in the list of approved storm-prep purchases. Tax-exempt items during the sales tax holiday include food, medication, leashes, pet carriers, pet beds, collapsable food bowls, cat litter, pet waste bags and can openers. Floridians evacuate with their pets, which is why many shelters around the state now accept pets; the state also encourages hotels to modify pet policies when evacuation orders are issued.
  • Power: During the first sales tax holiday in 2005, Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy were still under development. Today, smartphones are our lifelines – and the top source of news and information as a storm makes landfall. Since steady use quickly drains a phone’s battery, the state added portable charging banks to the list to ensure Floridians have a backup power source should the power grid fail because of downed lines and transformers.
  • Prices: The sales tax holiday restricts certain supplies possibly considered luxury (or for commercial use) based on price points. For example, a Yeti Roadie cooler would not qualify for an exemption, but many Igloo or Ace-branded coolers would. That said, state lawmakers have recognized the need to increase price limits of supplies that qualify for an exemption. For example, in year one, only generators priced below $750 qualified as tax-free. Today, that upper limit is $3,000.
  • Protection: Carbon monoxide poisoning from improper generator use is among the leading causes of hurricane-related deaths. As a result, the state added carbon monoxide detectors to the tax-free list in 2022. Fires also can occur because of stoves left on when the power went out or ruptured gas lines, so smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are now on the list, too.

Lawmakers certainly deserve credit for recognizing that the relatively nominal costs to the state of these tax exemptions – estimated at nearly $50 million in 2024 – are meager compared to the potential loss in lives if residents aren’t fully prepared.

This year, Florida plans to observe two Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holidays: June 1-14, which coincides with the start of hurricane season, and Aug. 24 through Sept. 6, which falls immediately prior to the historical peak of hurricane season.

Now is the time to take an inventory around your home. Then, bring that list to a local retailer during the sales tax holiday, and you’ll rest comfortably knowing your family is prepared for hurricane season.

– By Michael Wynn, President of Sunshine Ace Hardware

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