- FEMA assured Florida of $3.4 billion for immediate response to Hurricane Idalia, a Category 3+ hurricane hitting North Florida.
- The agency is also seeking $12 billion more from Congress for sustained disaster response capabilities through year-end, emphasizing it’s not a permanent solution.
- But the Biden Administration has included the additional aid to a package that includes international aid – including money for Ukraine’s war against Russia – that requires approval from Congress.
- Federal and state cooperation includes pre-positioned rescue teams, while legislative tensions arise over funding and international aid linkage.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has assured Florida that $3.4 billion remaining in the federal Disaster Relief Fund will be available for immediate response to Hurricane Idalia, making landfall in North Florida as a Category 3 hurricane by mid-morning on Wednesday. The agency is also providing aid to other disasters, including the deadly Maui wildfires.
FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell spoke during a White House briefing Tuesday and said the agency is seeking an additional $12 billion from Congress to sustain their disaster response capabilities through year-end. “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 emphasized.
Federal and State Cooperation
Criswell reported that she had a phone conversation with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday, and President Joe Biden spoke with DeSantis as well. Criswell and DeSantis stressed the need for people to take the impending hurricane seriously and follow evacuation orders, particularly due to the expected storm surge on the Gulf Coast.
Supplementing the state’s own efforts, FEMA says it has already pre-positioned urban search-and-rescue teams and supplies, including 50,000 meals, water, blankets, and medical supplies that are ready to be deployed to storm-damaged areas at the state’s request.
Legislative Tensions Over Funding
Despite the high-level cooperation over the immediate emergency, there are signs of disagreement over $12 billion sought by FEMA as part of a $40 billion supplemental funding request made by the White House to Congress earlier this month. The request also includes $13 billion in emergency aid to Ukraine, which has drawn criticism from Florida’s U.S. Senators.
Sen. Rick Scott accused the White House of “playing games” by linking domestic disaster relief to international aid. Scott announced plans for legislation that would combine disaster-relief funding with a block-grant proposal aimed at helping citrus growers affected by 2022 hurricanes. Sen. Marco Rubio has also expressed concerns about domestic funding being linked to international aid, but President Biden insisted he’s not interested in separating the funds.
Preparation and Response Measures
With counties in Florida issuing evacuation orders, FEMA is urging residents to complete preparedness actions quickly. Life-threatening storm surge is expected along portions of the Florida Gulf Coast, from Tampa Bay to the Big Bend region.
The agency says it has deployed 640 personnel, including six Incident Management Assistance Teams, nine Urban Search and Rescue teams, and three Disaster Survivor Assistance Strike Teams. Both the American Red Cross and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have deployed teams in anticipation of providing shelter, food, and emergency power support.
“We’re providing everything he could possibly need,” President Biden said Tuesday regarding coordination with Gov. DeSantis.