Guest View: Please Help Our Citizens Recover Now

September 27, 2020

by Steven Barry, chairman Escambia County Commission

Thousands of Escambia County residents are hurting as a result of Hurricane Sally and there is help out there, but it’s just out of reach to them.

As a board, we are relieved and appreciative of the FEMA Major Disaster Declaration which came Thursday, including approval for all Public Assistance (PA) categories available. Unfortunately, it did not include the Individual Assistance (IA) component for our citizens.

While we understand the inclusion of the IA does not guarantee direct assistance to any specific person, it does allow any person to apply for the same type of assistance that their neighbors to the west in Baldwin, Mobile, and Escambia Counties, Alabama are able. The inclusion of IA allows for citizens to receive direct assistance from FEMA for expenses incurred due to temporary housing needs, housing repairs, housing replacement, permanent housing construction, and a category for other needs assistance. The last category could include expenses for medical, personal property, transportation, moving and storage, and any other expenses FEMA approves.

In 2014, we also received the Major Disaster Declaration, but it included the IA portion. Hurricane Sally was a category 2 hurricane with 105 mph sustained winds and inundated us with even more rain than the flood of 2014, over 30 inches, but now our citizens wait for what they rightfully deserve, and that is not fair.

In 2014, there were over 7,000 IA applications approved by FEMA, exceeding 35 million dollars. People are in a remarkably similar situation today, only with dramatically different resources available to them. Between the hurricane-force winds and deluge of rain, our citizens have suffered over 100,000,000 dollars of damage to their homes and private property. A large portion of those losses are not covered by insurance, and our community cannot absorb this type of loss of financial resources, especially when the help exists.

Over 30% of our population survives at a household income of less than 40,000 dollars, for a household consisting of three people. In five days following the storm, at only a handful of distribution sites throughout the county, 36,000 vehicles were served 60,000 cases of water, 21,000 bags of ice, and 37,000 meals ready to eat (MRE) were provided to them. Additionally, non-profit organizations, faith-based organizations, and kind neighbors volunteering have served 80,000 meals and distributed 30,000 tarps to hungry and hurting people. People would not wait multiple hours in line, which they did, for basic and only life-sustaining items if they have a multitude of choices, so clearly, they do not.

These are the citizens whose lives are on hold, just waiting for a process most do not understand to work through the bureaucratic process.

We understand the COVID-19 issues affecting the FEMA personnel response and other national disasters occurring in other parts of the country, but our citizens should not be penalized for factors completely out of their control.

Also, based on feedback from our state and federal partners, we have taken the additional step of asking people to take the time and make the effort to email us pictures and narratives outlining their losses. This is an unprecedented request, but as expected, people responded tremendously, with 1,000 emails in barely 48 hours.

In addition to the other aspects of IA mentioned previously, the inclusion of IA will also entitle our homeowners to access the SBA Home Repair low-interest program loans, and without direct assistance or access to these low-interest loans collateralized by these severely damaged properties, many people simply do not have the resources to repair or rebuild their homes.

We held multiple board meetings this week and every County Commissioner eloquently outlined heartbreaking stories from their districts.

This is not a north end of county issue, nor is it a barrier island issue. The problem is not confined to any socioeconomic area, nor any racial demographic.

This is an Escambia County issue, and the help our constituents need and deserve exists. Please help our citizens begin to recover now.

Opinion submitted by Escambia County Commission Chairman Steven Barry on behalf of Escambia County.


8 Responses to “Guest View: Please Help Our Citizens Recover Now”

  1. l. l. g. on September 29th, 2020 2:17 pm

    in all this turmoil due to the storm, what is going to happen to all those old trees that went down in the storm. will they wind up in the dump or will they be recycled? i hope that they will be used for good.

  2. Bubba Ray on September 29th, 2020 1:08 am

    When Ivan hit, the insurance company I had (a division of a large company that still does business in Florida) filed for bankruptcy and was dissolved. If it weren’t for FEMA assistance I would not have been able to make the necessary repairs to protect my home until Citizens Insurance company could step in and take over the claim. So for all of those of you who thing you are in “good hands” or have a “good neighbor” let me assure you, you too may one day need FEMA money. Count your blessings that you don’t need it this go around.

  3. James truhill on September 28th, 2020 8:20 pm

    I still agree with Adam. I pay $2100. per year for homeowners insurance Plus $516. Per yr for FLOOD INSURANCE. My homeowners insurance has a $4800.00 hurricane deductible (no damage and no flood this year). Actually; never been flooded
    But pay year after year…. couple close callls, though!
    Why bother having all this if the feds are going to start throwing money around?

  4. Adam Evans on September 28th, 2020 9:26 am

    James Principe, thank you for the information.

  5. ta on September 28th, 2020 7:48 am

    This storm was every bit as damaging as Ivan was. At leat for us out here in Beulah it was. We had multiple tornados & flooding. My ex husband lives in Bristol Park & list his home to massive flooding. I’m just confused WHY we’re STILL waiting for individual assistance. I’ve called the governors office 3 times. I’ve called Sen. Broxon’s office twice. His asst called me back & left a message saying, “by now I’m sure you’ve been able to apply for FEMA.” Uhhh no. Why are our upper level representatives unaware of this? And more importantly, why are they not doing anything to help?

  6. James Principe on September 27th, 2020 10:41 pm

    Re: Adam Evans
    The program doesn’t pay for all the losses of uninsured’s only a portion. Same can go for underinsured or people who are insured, but insurance won’t cover total loss.

    Who Is Eligible to Receive Individual Assistance?

    To be eligible for FEMA Individual Assistance grants, you must be a U.S. citizen, Non-Citizen National or a Qualified Alien. The following general conditions must be met for an applicant to be eligible to receive IHP Assistance:

    The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien
    FEMA must be able to verify the applicant’s identity
    The applicant’s insurance, or other forms of disaster assistance received, cannot meet their disaster-caused needs
    The applicant’s necessary expenses and serious needs are directly caused by a declared disaster
    Is there any assistance available for those not meeting the above conditions?

    Regardless of status, survivors are eligible for short-term, non-cash, in-kind emergency disaster relief programs such as:

    Voluntary Agency Assistance
    Disaster Legal Services (DLS)
    Emergency Assistance (sheltering, feeding, etc.)

  7. Adam Evans on September 27th, 2020 1:25 pm

    So if the Federal Government does pay for all of the losses of uninsured people, they should at least reimburse those of us that paid for insurance coverage our insurance premium money.

  8. Melissa Pino on September 27th, 2020 11:19 am

    Thank you Chairman Barry for the compassion that undergirds your letter. It was really heartening to see. We handed out water, food, hygiene products and backpacks to people in Warrington and Brownsville on Friday. The need is so tremendous, and a lot of people just feel lost. They really don’t know where to turn. It must be frustrating to you to have nothing but words to offer yet on the individual FEMA, but those heartfelt words do matter.

Have a comment on this story?

We welcome your comments on this story, but there are some rules to follow::

(1) Be Nice. No comments that slander another, no racism, no sexism, no personal attacks.

(2) No Harrassing Comments. If someone says something bad about you, don't respond. That's childish.

(3) No Libel. That's saying something is not true about someone. Don't do it.

(4) Keep it clean. Nothing vulgar, obscene or sexually related. No profanity or obvious substitutions. Period.

(5) reserves the right to remove any comments that violate our rules or we think to be inappropriate. We are not responsible for what is posted. Comments may not appear right away until they are approved by a moderator.

(6) Limit your comments to the subject in this story only, and limit comments to 300 words or less. Do not post copyrighted material. Comments will not be added to stories that are over 30 days old.

(7) No posts may advertise a commercial business or political group, or link to another commercial web site or political site of any kind.