ORLANDO — The last of the $63 million raised through first lady Casey DeSantis’ Hurricane Ian relief effort has now been allocated, about 10 months after the storm cut a destructive path through Florida, state officials said Friday.
Nearly $7 million in grants were awarded Friday to repair Lee County’s waterfront, fix public boat ramps and aid in other long-term recovery efforts, according to a news release from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office.
The latest awards came about a week after the Orlando Sentinel reported that about $7 million in relief funds remained to be spent as the anniversary of the storm approached.
In the release, DeSantis praised the Florida Disaster Fund, which was activated shortly after Ian hit in September. Casey DeSantis led promotional efforts for the fund.
“The Florida Disaster Fund has helped to cut through red tape and get money quickly into the hands of those who need it most,” the governor said.
The latest awards include $2.3 million to 17 long-term recovery groups in counties hit hardest by Hurricane Ian; $2 million for waterfront repairs in Lee County; $900,000 for Lee County emergency management and the United Way of Lee, Hendry and Glades counties; $500,000 for public boat ramp repairs; $500,000 for the Pine Island Beacon of Hope Organization; $500,000 to rebuild Fort Myers Bayside Park; and $200,000 for the Jewish Federation of Lee and Charlotte Counties’ relief efforts.
The disaster relief fund was established in 2004 to help with losses not covered by insurance or government funding.
Volunteer Florida, the nonprofit organization that oversees the fund, hasn’t provided itemized details on where all of the funds went, including a $25 million program to provide “lodging for volunteers, protective equipment and other necessary supplies and commodities.”
The organization should be more forthcoming, particularly with programs that send money to for-profit businesses, Laurie Styron, executive director of CharityWatch, told the Sentinel.
Although it’s not unusual for funds to remain unallocated months after disaster strikes, charities shouldn’t cling to their “purse strings” if people are in need, she said.
“People who donate in response to a natural disaster want to ease the suffering of the people affected,” Styron said. “That’s why they donate. So if you still have people who are unhoused, buried in debt as a result of disaster losses, or otherwise not back on their feet, it is safe to say that the intentions of donors are not being honored.”
Skyler Swisher Orlando Sentinel