FEMA help only initially open to some Florida counties devastated by Idalia

Some regions, such as Madison County, are notably absent from the list
Madison County in need of disaster relief funding
Published: Sep. 1, 2023 at 5:30 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2023 at 8:31 PM EDT
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MADISON, Fla. (WCTV/Gray Florida Capital Bureau) - Only seven of the 25 counties Gov. Ron DeSantis asked for individual disaster declarations to help recover from Hurricane Idalia initially received it.

The declarations open up FEMA money to help people recover. People in communities devastated by the storm outside those seven counties are holding hope that help would expand to them.

“People are saying it isn’t the worst area, but everywhere is the worst area,” Vera Hill said.

Hill was checking on a friend’s house in Madison Friday, furious it’s taking a long time for help to get to Madison County.

“It makes me feel we are just left out. We’re just left out. We are just overlooked. It makes me feel like we’re not accountable,” she said.

As of Friday morning, people living in Madison County were not eligible to get federal help to help them rebuild. DeSantis said he expects that to change.

“We spoke with FEMA, and we absolutely anticipate more counties being added. We are going to be asking for that same thing to happen with them and they added on, but certainly counties like Madison, I mean, they had 100% power loss. It’s a county that has not necessarily faced the storms the way some of our other communities have,” DeSantis said during a media briefing Friday at the Florida Emergency Operations Center.

Gray’s Florida Capital Bureau asked FEMA Friday why only part of the governor’s initial request was granted.

“We were looking at specifically some aerial imagery and some other initial data and damage assessment information to decide which ones were quite clearly in need of assistance,” Colt Hagmaier, FEMA Deputy Assistant Administrator in the Office of Response and Recovery, said.

FEMA said it is continuously looking at other areas to add counties to the disaster declaration list, especially since this storm is expected to cost as much as $20 billion. The problem is, FEMA only has $3.4 billion left to go toward disaster relief.

President Joe Biden is asking Congress for an extra $4 billion, which is something Senator Rick Scott said he’s been pushing for.

“Hopefully with the wildfires in Maui, with the storm, hurricane in California, there will be more people that want to get it done and we can do it next week,” Sen. Scott said.

Hill doesn’t care how much it takes, she just hopes help will come faster.

“All we’re asking for is if we can get help. Please, whatever you do, can you help us in Madison County?” Hill said.

FEMA said it is working with the state and will add counties to the declaration once assessments from the ground are done.

Biden is expected to visit Florida on Saturday. DeSantis said he is hoping the president’s visit won’t slow down recovery in some of the hardest-hit areas.