A New Disaster? Yes, It's FEMA

Summer 2005 CSANews Issue 55  |  Posted date : May 20, 2007.Back to list

The 2004 hurricane season saw four destructive hurricanes touching land in the United States during a seven-week period in August and September. Three of them crossed the Florida peninsula and another struck North Florida and several other states, causing about 130 deaths and $2 billion in insured damage. A presidential disaster declaration to the tune of $8.5 billion was declared, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was assigned the responsibility of selecting and assisting victims.
FEMA, according to law, did not provide aid to seasonal residents who are not U.S. citizens. Many of you found this out – the hard way – and unless you had the forethought to secure insurance, you were on your own. Believe me, I heard from many Canadians who failed to obtain insurance because they didn't think their home was worth it, or they just plain forgot! Some tried to get it after the first hurricane but were turned down because, if I'm not mistaken, insurance must be purchased at least 30 days before protection starts.

By the time you read this, the 2005 hurricane season could be well underway. In fact, Arlene, the first storm of the season (June through November) roared through the Gulf of Mexico in early June. Fortunately, the Florida peninsula only received heavy rain and high winds, but the storm touched land in North Florida just west of the Florida-Alabama state line and caused serious damage to several construction projects which were still repairing damage caused by Hurricane Ivan last September.

Forecasters have predicted that it could be a "very active" season, with 15 named tropical storms and eight hurricanes. I'm hoping that FEMA, if there's a disaster declared, will have corrected some of its 2004 problems.

Here's why!
FEMA garnered a lot of criticism for the way in which it doled out funds. In its defence, it likes to point to its inspectors as the "first line of accountability" when paying out tax dollars to disaster victims. "Taxpayers: watch your wallets," is what the Lakeland (FL) Ledger stated in an editorial. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale) managed to obtain the names of 133 inspectors who work in the field after disasters. More than one in five (22 per cent) had criminal records at the time they were hired. Another four lost their jobs for arrests after they were hired.

What did FEMA say?
Nothing – in the beginning, FEMA officials refused to answer questions from the newspaper about background checks or what might disqualify a person from being hired as an inspector. Finally, politicians entered the fray and then FEMA's top federal disaster official vigorously defended the government's handling of claims, saying that he expected more errors than usual when the agency hired 2,000 new inspectors to carry the extra workload.

Why am I telling you about this? FEMA inspectors gain easy access to people's property and homes. They determine who receives relief payments. It wouldn't surprise me if some of these "not so honest" inspectors attempted access to "your" home to case it for possible burglary when you're in Canada.

Have I aroused your curiosity?
Here are a few more examples: one of the inspectors, the Sun-Sentinel reported, was charged in 1994 with soliciting a $500 kickback from a federal disaster-aid applicant near Houston, Texas. He pleaded guilty to bribery and served 26 months in federal prison.

This one is hard to believe! One of the trainers for inspectors from North Carolina, the Sun-Sentinel said, had served six years in prison in three states for various crimes, including attempted embezzlement of public money, conspiracy to commit wire fraud and cocaine possession. He was also arrested in 1979 while serving as the elected treasurer of Highland Park, Michigan; he served nine months in prison for stealing city funds! Another inspector was identified as a house burglar who served three prison terms in Ohio.

These are even harder to believe! In Florida, FEMA paid funeral expenses for 321 people, although only 123 deaths were attributed to the hurricanes. In Miami-Dade County, FEMA paid about $9.3 million in rental assistance to more than 5,000 people without any evidence that they had moved out of their homes. At a recent hearing, a representative of FEMA was asked if the agency ever attempted to determine how many people who received rental assistance actually used it for that purpose? The response was, "as far as I know, no."

Despite all the problems, FEMA did a good job. Let's hope that it learned enough so that, if there is a next time, the agency will pay for funerals only for those actually killed by a storm!

PRP Update
In my last column, I told you about my fight with a rare skin disease called Pityriasis Rubra Pilaris (that's a mouthful, eh). I inadvertently gave you an incorrect PRP Support website; it should have been .org, not .com. I'm pleased to say that I'm improving and should be 100 per cent normal very soon (okay, I know you didn't think I was normal to begin with). I want to extend my sincere thanks to those who contacted me with words of encouragement. It really helped. A world-wide company, AVVA, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, responded by sending me samples of their Neuroskin products. I'll try them and let you know the results.

Reminders
If you are involved with social events this winter and would like publicity in the CSANews' Canadian Calendar in the fall issue, please let me know by August 20. And don't forget to order your place mats by contacting me toll-free at 1-877-633-4722 or leeder@tampabay.rr.com.

Did I Say That???
Police in Los Angeles had good luck with a robbery suspect who just couldn't control himself during a lineup. When detectives asked each man in the lineup to repeat the words, "give me all your money or I'll shoot," the man shouted, "that's not what I said!" (hellooooooo)!