President Obama goes to Alabama today to see some of the damage from this week’s tornadoes, as he vowed to make sure that the federal government aids all of those hit by storms that killed well over 200 people.
“I’ve already spoken to the governors of Alabama, Virginia, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Georgia, and I’ve let them know that we are ready to help in any possible way,” Mr. Obama said in the White House East Room.
“The loss of life has been heartbreaking, especially in Alabama,” the President added.
Mr. Obama also dispatched the head of FEMA, Craig Fugate, to Alabama, to help with emergency aid coordination.
Fugate, who was once the top emergency manager in Florida, has repeatedly assured Congress that his emergency agency is ready for massive aid efforts – he’ll now be heading the aid effort for the Obama Administration.
What happens next in terms of emergency relief and the assistance of the federal government can cause political headaches in a variety of ways.
Over the years of covering Congress, I have repeatedly seen FEMA knocked around in the aftermath of hurricanes, as people complain excessive red tape and bureaucratic bungling is preventing them from getting aid.
Sen. Ernest “Fritz” Hollings (D-SC) loved to rant about “that FEMA crowd” in the wake of Hurricane Hugo, as he charged that the feds weren’t doing enough to help those hit by the killer storm.
In an effort to get out money to those in need, wee have also seen FEMA distribute a lot of money over the years to people who really weren’t eligible for aid, or found that money handed out was used to buy all kinds of non-essential items like jewelry and more.
(Just do a Google search for FEMA debit cards and porn, and you’ll find a few examples.)
“Ineffective FEMA Oversight” and “Hurricane Fraud Soaked Taxpayers” are just a couple of the examples that you can quickly find on the internet from Congressional investigators looking into the work of FEMA.
As FEMA officials race to help in the South, it won’t be a surprise at all if there are improper payments related to aid – just this year, a report said FEMA hadn’t tried to recoup $643 million in wrongly paid out benefits from Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath.
FEMA Director Fugate was reminded of fraud issues at a hearing last month in Congress; he told lawmakers that FEMA is doing a better job.
“While we at FEMA work to ensure resilience to disasters, we also bear the responsibility for demonstrating good stewardship over taxpayer dollars,” Fugate said.
That guarantee will be tested again in coming weeks and months.