Nelson says FEMA wait times ‘unacceptable’

Oct 31 • 186 Views • View Comments

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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), in remarks on the Senate floor, said today that it is “unacceptable” that Floridians are having to wait up to four hours to speak to a FEMA representative about housing assistance.

“It’s been two months since hurricane Irma hit Florida,” Nelson said, “and our people are still hurting because they don’t have sufficient housing.”

“FEMA – through Individual Assistance – is supposed to provide temporary housing,” Nelson continued. “This is the law. That’s what the people of Florida are entitled to … but it’s not happening in Florida. Why? Because they get on the telephone and they have to wait up to four hours to get somebody on the phone from FEMA.”

“That is just unacceptable,” Nelson said. “It’s got to be changed. And, thus, you see the bipartisan effort on behalf of my colleague from Florida, Marco Rubio, and I writing to the head of FEMA today and saying: look, what happened even under the debacle years ago of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, there they experienced an average wait time of ten minutes before they could get FEMA on to the line to help them. Now, we have people waiting as much as four hours.”

Nelson and Rubio sent a letter today to FEMA Administrator Brock Long to raise concerns about the amount of time Floridians are being forced to wait for assistance.

Noting that Floridians are facing longer wait times than victims of previous disasters, the lawmakers cited a March 2006 report by the Dept. of Homeland Security’s Inspector General that found victims of Hurricane Katrina experienced an average wait time of 10 minutes before speaking with an agent by phone, and approximately 10 days for a home inspection. 

“We recognize and appreciate the 4,000 inspectors in the field working tirelessly to help people in need of housing assistance,” the senators wrote. “However, the current wait times must be improved.”

The text of the senators’ letter to FEMA is available here. 

Video of Nelson’s remarks on the Senate floor is available here: https://youtu.be/bgKIhJAhkYc

And here’s a rush transcript of his speech:

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson
Remarks on the Senate floor
October 31, 2017

Sen. Nelson: Thank you, Mr. President. You know, it’s been two months since Hurricane Irma hit Florida and basically covered up the state and our people are still hurting because they don’t have sufficient housing.

If you lived in a mobile home, if you lived in a low- lying area, your home was destroyed. It is uninhabitable, the ceiling is collapsing, the mold and mildew, because of being all the water in, has now accumulated. It is an uninhabitable home.

And FEMA, through Individual Assistance, is supposed to provide temporary housing. This is the law. That’s what the people of Florida are entitled to just like the people of Texas are entitled to in the presiding officer’s state.

But it’s not happening in Florida. Why? Because they get on the telephone and they have to wait up to, documented, four hours to get somebody on the phone from FEM. Or it takes home inspection 45 days before they can get an inspector to come out and see the home before they can be declared and be eligible for Individual Assistance.

And that is just unacceptable. Because if they don’t have the means, especially if they don’t have a job as a result of the jobs being destroyed in the hurricane, where are they going to be able to get temporary assistance for housing?

This is a fact that is happening in the state of Florida and it’s got to be changed. And, thus, you see the bipartisan effort on behalf of my colleague from Florida, Marco Rubio, and I writing to the head of FEMA today and saying, look, what happened even under the debacle years ago of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, there they experienced an average wait time of ten minutes before they could get FEMA on to the line to help them. Now we have people waiting as much as four hours.

And so, Mr. President, I wanted to bring this to the attention of the Senate. We cannot have the aftermath of a hurricane, two months after, where our people are hurting, they are suffering. They can’t live in a healthy condition in the existing homes that have been destroyed in the hurricane.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

 

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