Money remaining in the federal Disaster Relief Fund will be available to help after Hurricane Idalia, along with providing assistance following the deadly Maui wildfires and other extreme weather-related events, the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency said Tuesday.
As the agency seeks an additional $12 billion from Congress as a “bridge” to handle crises through the end of the year, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said $3.4 billion remaining in the fund is enough to handle the current disasters.
“I want to stress that while immediate-needs funding will ensure we can continue to respond to disasters, it is not a permanent solution,” Criswell said during a White House briefing. “My primary responsibility at FEMA is to ensure that we are always postured to respond to any disaster and to provide the life-saving and life-sustaining support when needed.”
Criswell also said the agency has staff members available to simultaneously respond to multiple large events.
“We can also reach out to all members of the Department of Homeland Security, through what we call the surge-capacity force for individuals that have volunteered to offer support during the disaster,” Criswell said.
“So, I'm confident right now, that with these two storms that we're currently dealing with – in Maui and this one (in Florida), or even another one to come – that we have enough personnel to go in and support these immediate life-saving efforts.”
Idalia is expected to make landfall Wednesday in North Florida as a punishing Category 3 hurricane.
Criswell spoke Monday on the phone with Gov. Ron DeSantis and said concerns were raised about the need for people to take the storm seriously and to evacuate because of expected storm surge on the Gulf Coast. Also, they discussed a need to help vulnerable people get out of harm's way.
FEMA has taken steps such as pre-positioning urban search-and-rescue teams and supplies, including 50,000 meals, water, blankets and medical supplies that are ready to be rapidly moved into storm-damaged areas at the state's request, Criswell said.
The $12 billion is part of $40 billion that the White House requested this month from Congress in supplemental funding. The White House request included $13 billion for emergency aid to Ukraine in the war with Russia.
U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., on Tuesday issued a news release contending the White House is “playing games” by tying money for critical domestic needs to aid for Ukraine.
Scott said he plans to introduce legislation that would combine disaster-relief funding with issues such as a block-grant proposal that would help citrus growers who sustained heavy damage during 2022 hurricanes.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., also has questioned tying disaster-relief funding with aid for Ukraine. But President Joe Biden has said he’s not interested in dividing the supplemental money.
Florida officials anticipate requesting enhanced federal aid after Idalia makes landfall. Biden on Monday approved an emergency declaration and ordered federal assistance in responding to the storm.
“I spoke to the governor last night, we’re providing everything he could possibly need," Biden said Tuesday. "We’re in constant contact.”
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