Disaster Relief for Fun and (Electoral) Profit

As Floridians and other Gulf Coast residents recover from the latest Hurricane Dennis (it took a while for some to recover from the last Hurricane Dennis and its brother Floyd), check out this story from Sean Reilly, Southern Exposure/Facing South contributor and Washington correspondent for the Mobile Register, on the Congressional investigation into FEMA corruption:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency needs to remedy "serious shortcomings" in its disaster relief program, according to the findings of a congressional inquiry into reports of widespread abuse during last year's busy hurricane season in Florida.

Among 19 recommendations for change spelled out by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee: Limit awards for personal property losses, make sure that damage inspectors don't have conflicts of interest, and verify that deaths are disaster-related before paying funeral expenses.

Among FEMA's problems (not specifically mentioned in Sean's piece) was a too-cozy connection between disaster relief and President Bush's re-election campaign, especially in Jeb-governed Florida. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent claims for hurricane damage were paid out by FEMA in the multi-hurricane fall of 2004, just as the presidential election was heating up. The South Florida Sun-Sentinel has been leading the way on this story:

As the second hurricane in less than a month bore down on Florida last fall, a federal consultant predicted a "huge mess" that could reflect poorly on President Bush and suggested that his re-election staff be brought in to minimize any political liability, records show.

Two weeks later, a Florida official summarizing the hurricane response wrote that the Federal Emergency Management Agency was handing out housing assistance "to everyone who needs it without asking for much information of any kind."

These goodies were found in email records that Jeb Bush's administration refused to release until the Sun-Sentinel threatened to sue.

Incidentally, FEMA's demonstrated largesse to Florida hasn't stopped the Dept. of Homeland Security from taking advantage of hurricane fears there to shill for insurance companies.