Tens of thousands of Floridians hammered by a run of deadly hurricanes are eligible for almost $900 million in federal disaster aid, but three years after Hermine, Matthew and Irma tore across the state, that money has barely been touched.
The state, like many others, is caught in the bureaucratic knot that governs disaster relief funds administered by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The program, which by design has few set rules, has long been criticized for its complexity.
Some states have coped by setting up their own bureaucracies specifically to manage HUD disaster relief block grants. Not so Florida, the state most vulnerable to hurricane damage. There, the biggest obstacle to disaster relief is the Department of Economic Opportunity, which currently is standing between residents — some living in or near poverty — and $891.5 million in HUD block grants.
The state agency has spent only $29 million of that funding as of Jan. 1, nearly $21 million of which went to Innovation Emergency Management, a consulting firm the agency hired two years ago to help navigate the grants.
Now, Florida is anticipating an additional $735.5 million from HUD for Hurricane Michael and localities still reeling from the 2018 Category 5 storm have asked Gov. Ron DeSantis if they, not the department, can manage the cash.
The exodus has been fueled broadly by administration policies that have diminished the role of science as well as more specific steps, such as the relocation of agencies away from the nation’s capital.
While the administration has come under fire for prioritizing the concerns of industry at the expense of science in government decisions, the cumulative effects are just beginning to appear after three years of Trump in the White House.
Once of the advantages of decades of experience is the recollection of previous situations where the federal response and recovery endured major clashes with state and local officials. The example that comes to mind is Hurricane Andrew in Florida in 1992.
Then President George Bush appointed a key aide, Andrew Card, to a newly created position, which was above that of the Federal Coordinating Officer. The response and recovery was complex and conflict-ridden, but Card helped sort it out and expedited matters. See the article from NYTimes, dated Aug. 29, 1992: HURRICANE ANDREW; BREAKDOWN SEEN IN U.S. STORM AID. One excerpt:
Even though the emergency management agency was created in 1978 to coordinate the Federal response to disasters, Mr. Bush on Wednesday appointed Transportation Secretary Andrew H. Card as the head of a separate inter-agency group, the Task Force on Hurricane Andrew.
NOTE: The Diva has been rethinking this suggestion based on comments from readers. More leadership and decisiveness are needed for the recovery, but not in the form of a czar.
The Lone Star State claimed seven of 14 of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s $1 billion disasters last year and is the only state to witness a disaster from each category the agency tracks — drought, tropical cyclone, flooding, wildfire, freeze, winter storm and severe storm.
The latest affront occurs in the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s recently released National Preparedness Report. The annual report — mandated by Congress to help state and local governments, as well as the private sector, understand the nation’s efforts to prepare for the gravest threats and hazards it faces — glibly omits any mention of climate change.