The following is a transcript of an interview with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell that aired on Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Deanne Criswell. Administrator, I know you are very, very busy — you’ve got states of emergency from Virginia down to Florida. You’ve got flooding and concerns — West Virginia, Tennessee. Where is your area of greatest concern at this moment?
FEMA ADMINISTRATOR DEANNE CRISWELL: Good morning. Our focus right now is supporting the people of Florida that have had the most significant impacts from this storm. But we also have teams that have been embedded pre-landfall in North Carolina, South Carolina, to make sure that if they had immediate needs, we were able to respond. But right now, we’ve got a lot of staff, we got a lot of resources that are embedded across the state in Florida making sure that we are continuing the first priority which is saving as many lives as possible and getting the immediate assistance out to those that need it right now the most.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Governor DeSantis said Lee and Charlotte counties were “off the grid.” That’s where Sanibel Island and Fort Myers, other areas are located. When do you expect things like electricity and water to be back and can those residents move back to places like Sanibel Island this year?
DEANNE CRISWELL: Yeah, there’s going to be a lot of issues, especially in those areas of the greatest impact. You know, we saw well over 2 million customers without power immediately following the storm. And the power companies have done an amazing job of getting things restored as quickly as possible. But those hardest hit areas they’re going to take some more time. And we know that there’s a water issue right now in Lee County. We brought in support from the Army Corps of Engineers to work with the state to work with the county officials to assess the extent of that damage, and then what is it going to take to help repair it or at least put some temporary measures in place. But besides that, we know that so many homes I saw firsthand when I was there, Friday and Saturday, so many homes, completely destroyed. And so, we are going to make sure that we are getting the right people in there to help provide the temporary support right now, but the long term needs to help these communities recover.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So, on that point, the president said if someone doesn’t have insurance, the federal government will provide just under $40,000 for home repairs and just under $40,000 for lost property. Given costs right now, do you think that’s enough for Florida residents to rebuild their homes?
DEANNE CRISWELL: Yeah, there’s a couple of things that go into how a community or how an individual recovers. Right, insurance is first. Right and we know that many people are either underinsured or have no insurance, that people can register for FEMA assistance. We have limits and the amount of money that we can give, and our programs are designed to really help jumpstart that recovery process. But then we bring in our partners like the Small Business Administration, which can give low-cost loans to families not just businesses but families. And our partners at HUD, right. And we’re going to work together on what those unmet needs are and what their long-term needs are, and make sure we’re providing the resources and the support to those communities, temporary and then long-term to get these communities back on their feet while they’re rebuilding.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But when you look at that question of rebuilding, I’m going to ask you something I asked Senator Scott which was, you know, given the warmer weather given the rising sea levels, there is concern in some of these coastal communities about rebuilding in the first place, and whether it’s sustainable or whether you should retreat. How are you going to decide if it’s even safe or worth rebuilding in some of these parts of the state?
DEANNE CRISWELL: Those are really good questions, Margaret. And when individuals are starting to make decisions about what they’re going to do and what their next steps are, they really need to understand what their risk is. And as we rebuild, I think I heard the senator say that, you know, Florida has done an amazing job of putting in place stricter and stronger building codes to make sure that as we rebuild, we rebuild, more resilient. That’s the key. We need to make sure that we have strong building codes because we have risks all over, we’ve seen damage inland in the state, and we need to have building codes that can make sure that our properties can withstand the impacts that we’re seeing from these severe weather events.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard the interview with Senator Scott, and he talked about your agency. He brought up comments from Vice President Harris, and I want our viewers and you to listen to what she said.
VP HARRIS SOT: “It is our lowest income communities and our communities of color, that are most impacted by these extreme conditions and-and impacted by-by issues that are not of their own making. And so, when absolutely, and so we have to address this in a way that is about giving resources based on equity, understanding that we fight for equality, but we also need to fight for equity understanding not everyone starts out at the same place.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yesterday, Florida’s governor’s spokesperson said that comments are causing undue panic and must be clarified. You’re here. I’d like you to clarify them because Senator Scott called on FEMA to be colorblind, really insinuating, you’re not.
DEANNE CRISWELL: Yeah, look Margaret. I was on the ground. I was on the ground Friday and Saturday. I was assessing the damage personally and talking to survivors. There are a lot of people that are going to need assistance as a result of this. And one of the things that I have known, and I have experienced responding to other disasters is that there are people that often have a hard time accessing our programs, there’s barriers to our program. And one of our focus areas since I’ve been in office is to make sure that we’re removing those barriers. So, these people that need our help the most are going to be able to access the help that we offer. I know that the Vice President and the President, they share the same values. And again, I was on the ground Friday and Saturday, and I committed to the governor then that we are going to provide assistance to all Floridians because we know that there are people that are just completely devastated from the storm. We are going to be there to support everybody that needs help.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But just to be clear here, the senator said the Vice President’s comments were about if you have a different skin color, you’re going to get relief. How do you again respond to that?
DEANNE CRISWELL: That again, Margaret, our programs support everybody. I would say I believe some of the things the Vice President was talking about are the long-term recovery and rebuilding these communities to be able to withstand disasters, so they can have less impact. We’re going to support all communities. I committed that to the governor, I commit to you right here that all Floridians are going to be able to get the help that is available to them through our programs.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Administrator and you will also be looking I imagine outside Florida at Puerto Rico as well?
DEANNE CRISWELL: We have not left Puerto Rico. We know that they’re still responding to the impacts that they have from Hurricane Fiona. Another very devastating hurricane that impacted the island just a few weeks ago. We have a strong team that’s been there working they’re going to continue to work, and I’m going to be traveling with the President tomorrow to talk to people firsthand with him and see what makes sure right, we just want to make sure that we are giving them everything that they need to support their recovery efforts.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, administrator — good luck to you. And Face the Nation will be back in one minute. Stay with us.
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