Nov 1, 2022
FEMA administrator on relief efforts in Florida a month after Hurricane Ian Transcript
It’s been about a month since Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida. As clean-up efforts in the state continue, the hardest-hit communities are still reeling. Read the transcript here.
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It’s been a month since Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida, the deadliest hurricane to strike the U.S. since Hurricane Katrina in 2005. As cleanup efforts in the state continue, the hardest hit communities are still reeling. William Brangham is just back from Florida and has more on the recovery and rebuilding efforts and what is still most needed.
William Brangham (00:23):
Judy, Hurricane Ian killed at least 119 people in Florida, and it is poised to be one of the costliest storms the U.S. has ever seen. By some estimates, the damage in Florida as well as in North Carolina could cost between 40 and 70 billion dollars. Florida has received more than $1.6 billion in disaster relief since Ian hit. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has given out $680 million to homeowners and $322 million to the state’s emergency response operation, but there is still much, much more to do. For the latest on this recovery, we’re joined by FEMA’s Administrator, Deanne Criswell. Administrator Criswell, thank you so much for being here. Could you just give us a status report on your current efforts in Florida? What do Floridians need most now?
Deanne Criswell (01:14):
I’d say where our focus is right now is one, really helping to remove the debris so these communities can start the rebuilding process. Once we can get that debris out of the way, then people can start to think about how they want to rebuild their homes or what their next step might be. The other part is we still know that there’s so many people that aren’t in their homes, and I just want to make sure that people understand that there are options as we look at what the long-term temporary housing needs might be, that we still have some temporary short-term or intermediate needs through our hotel program. Our records show that there’s about 71,000 people that are eligible for this hotel program, our Transitional Sheltering Assistance, but we have just over 2,000 families that are in hotels. So there are resources out there, and I just want to make sure that Floridians know that if you need assistance or if your situation has changed from the first time you talked to us, come talk to us again and let’s see where you’re at and what we can do to assist.
William Brangham (02:14):
On that issue of housing, that is something that we heard a lot of frustration about, people feeling that there wasn’t enough temporary housing, that there’s not enough trailers out there. I mean, according to your office, I believe it’s 750,000 people have applied for aid and housing aid, and only I believe it’s under half have gotten it. Are you confident that the amount of aid is getting out to the right people at the right pace?
Deanne Criswell (02:41):
Yeah. We understand that everybody’s situation is very unique, and again, several hundred thousand people have applied for assistance, and many people have already gotten some of the funding to help jumpstart their recovery efforts. I think it’s important to remember that FEMA’s programs do help jumpstart that recovery effort. When they apply for assistance, that’s part of that. Insurance being one of the number one things that families would rely on to help support their full-term and long-term recovery. When it comes to the longer term temporary housing, that is one of the tools in our toolbox, but I mean, it does take us time, right? It takes us time to set up and establish that program, which is why we have these interim programs in place. One of them being our Transitional Sheltering Assistance Program, like hotels where we can make sure that people have a safe place to stay with their families while these longer term temporary programs are being put in place. We also support and reimburse for rental payments if families incurred rental payments, and so there’s a lot of interim measures that we have while we’re looking at those longer term temporary solutions.
William Brangham (03:49):
Hurricane Ian was an unprecedented storm, but as the world continues to warm and sea levels continue to go up, it will certainly not be an anomaly. Do you think we need to have a bigger conversation about how we rebuild and where we rebuild along America’s coastlines?
Deanne Criswell (04:11):
Yeah. I think it’s an incredibly important conversation, and I would say specifically the how we rebuild. I think that where we rebuild is definitely an important part of the conversation, but as the risks are changing and we’re seeing catastrophic events all over the country, from either wildfires or flash flooding in the middle of the U.S. or impacts like we’re seeing on the coast of Florida, I think the focus needs to be on how we rebuild. I can say as I was traveling through Southwest Florida, you can see where there are communities that built to higher building codes. Even in Fort Myers Beach where so much was devastated, there are homes that were able to withstand the impacts of Hurricane Ian, and that’s a matter of how they rebuilt. So I think we as a nation need to have more conversations about the importance of building codes, the importance of how we rebuild, especially as we’re looking at what the future risks are that these communities might be facing as a result of climate change.
William Brangham (05:14):
As you know, we are approaching the 10th anniversary of Super Storm Sandy, and a coalition of advocacy groups have gotten together and made some suggestions of things that they would love to see differently done by FEMA. One of them is a simplification of the aid process, a single form that people can fill out for aid, and some greater transparency if and when those people get denied aid. Would you consider making changes like that to the process?
Deanne Criswell (05:44):
Yeah. I haven’t seen the recommendations that you’re talking about yet, but I absolutely fully agree, right? We do need to have a simpler way where individuals can apply for aid, and we’ve been working here on what would a single application look like for aid that would cover across multiple federal agencies. So if they fill in their information once, they only have to do it once, and then if another federal agency just needs additional information, at least we can share that. So that’s been an ongoing process that we have had going here since I started on how we can do that.
Then we’ve really taken some time to work on the letters that we send out that tell people that they are either denied for assistance or we need more assistance. I don’t think that they were transparent enough. They were hard to understand and hard to read, and so we have been working on making changes to those that really don’t say that you’re denied, but just say that we need more information because right now they have to read all the way to the bottom of a letter to understand that. We’re trying to make that simpler and easier to understand.
William Brangham (06:43):
All right. FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell, thank you so much for being here.
Deanne Criswell (06:48):