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Nelson, Rubio press FEMA to improve hurricane response

Some people waiting hours just to talk with someone at FEMA
Debris from damage caused by Hurricane Matthew is piled on the shoulder of A1A in Vilano Beach on Oct. 8, 2016. [Will Vragovic | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Oct. 31, 2017

Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio are not happy with FEMA, saying the agency needs to do a better job helping Florida residents displaced by Hurricane Irma find rental housing.

They say people are also waiting up to four hours on the phone to speak with someone at FEMA.

"Tens of thousands of homes in Florida were damaged or destroyed by Hurricane Irma. Reports have indicated thousands of Floridians are waiting for housing units to arrive and be filled, and many are living in uninhabitable circumstances with collapsed ceilings and mold. These are not sustainable living conditions, and could lead to negative health consequences or personal injury," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Administrator Brock Long.

"While we recognize manufactured housing may not be appropriate for every situation, it seems there are serious delays in direct leasing options as well. Thus, we urge you to work expeditiously with Florida communities to ensure that Floridians have safe and sustainable housing options in the coming months.

"It is also our understanding that Florida residents have had issues with the FEMA help line in obtaining assistance.  Some reports state individuals calling FEMA's help line have waited up to four hours before speaking with a representative.  Additionally, FEMA's current estimates are approximately 45 days for a home inspection, a required step for Individual Assistance claims to be paid out. This means families face a long wait before receiving funding for housing needs, such as housing repair, replacement or construction.  The wait times for FEMA phone assistance and home inspections appear to be longer than those experienced by individuals during past major disasters. A March 2006 report conducted by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General found Hurricane Katrina applicants experienced an average wait time of ten minutes before speaking with an agent. The report also stated FEMA has historically completed home inspections within 10 days.

"We recognize and appreciate the 4,000 inspectors in the field working tirelessly to help people in need of housing assistance. However, the current wait times must be improved. Therefore, we ask that you work with Florida communities to ensure that displaced storm victims have adequate housing options available to them while they rebuild and repair their homes, and address any outstanding issues with FEMA's help line that have led to delays with assistance."

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