The following is a transcript of an interview with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell that aired on Sunday, October 2, 2022.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Deanne Criswell. Administrator, I know you are very, very busy – you have states of emergency from Virginia down to Florida. You have flooding and worries — West Virginia, Tennessee. Where is your area of greatest concern at the moment?
FEMA ADMINISTRATOR DEANNE CRISWELL: Good morning. Our focus right now is to support the people of Florida who have had the most significant impacts from this storm. But we also have teams that have been embedded before landing in North Carolina, South Carolina, to make sure that if they had immediate needs, we were able to respond. But right now, we have a lot of staff, we have a lot of resources that are embedded throughout the state of Florida, making sure that we continue the first priority, which is to save as many lives as possible and get that immediate help out. to those who need it most right now.
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 on and can these residents move back to places like Sanibel Island this year?
DEANNE CRISWELL: Yes, there will be a lot of problems, especially in the areas of greatest impact. You know, we saw well over 2 million customers without power immediately after the storm. And the power companies have done a fantastic job of getting things restored as quickly as possible. But the hardest hit areas, they’re going to take a bit more time. And we know there is a water problem right now in Lee County. We got support from the Army Corps of Engineers to work with the state to work with county officials to assess the extent of that damage and what it would take to help repair it or at least put some temporary measures in place in place. But beyond that, we know that so many homes, I saw firsthand when I was there on Friday and Saturday, so many homes, were completely destroyed. And then we want to make sure that we get the right people in there to help provide the temporary support right now, but in the long term, it’s necessary to help these communities recover.
MARGARET BRENNAN: So on that point, the president said that if someone doesn’t have insurance, the federal government will provide just under $40,000 for home repair and just under $40,000 for lost property. Given the cost right now, do you think it’s enough for Florida residents to rebuild their homes?
DEANNE CRISWELL: Yes, there are a few things that play into how a community or how a person recovers. Okay, insurance is first. Right and we know that many people are either underinsured or have no insurance that people can sign up for FEMA assistance. We have limits and the amount of money 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, who can provide 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 that we provide the resources and the support to those communities, temporarily and then long-term to get those communities back on their feet as they rebuilds.
MARGARET BRENNAN: But as you look at the issue of rebuilding, I want to ask you something I asked Senator Scott, which was, you know, given the warmer weather given the rising sea levels, there’s concern in some of these coastal communities about building whether in the first place and whether it is sustainable or whether you should withdraw. How will you determine if it is even safe or worth rebuilding in some of these parts of the state?
DEANNE CRISWELL: Those are really good questions, Margaret. And as individuals begin to make decisions about what they want to do and what their next steps are, they need to really understand what their risk is. And as we rebuild, I think I heard the senator say that Florida has done a great job of putting in place stricter and stronger building codes to make sure that when we rebuild, we rebuild, more resilient. That’s the key. We need to make sure we have strong building codes because we have risks everywhere, we’ve seen damage inland in the state, and we need to have building codes that can make sure our properties can withstand the impacts we’ve seen from these severe weather events.
MARGARET BRENNAN: You heard the interview with Senator Scott, and he talked about your agency. He had comments from Vice President Harris, and I want our viewers and you to listen to what she said.
VP HARRIS SOT: “It’s our lowest income communities and our communities of color that are most affected by these extreme conditions and — and affected by — by problems that are not of their making. And so, when absolutely, and so we have to to address this in a way that is about providing resources based on equality, understanding that we fight for equality, but we also have to fight for equality understanding, not everyone starts in the same place.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Yesterday, the Florida governor’s spokesman said the comments are causing unnecessary panic and need to be clarified. You are here. I would like you to clarify them because Senator Scott called on FEMA to be color blind, really insinuating, you are not.
DEANNE CRISWELL: Yeah, look Margaret. I was on the ground. I was on the ground Friday and Saturday. I personally assessed the damage and spoke with survivors. There are many people who need help as a result of this. And one of the things that I’ve known, and I’ve experienced responding to other disasters, is that there are people who often have difficulty accessing our programs, who are barriers to our program. And one of our areas of focus since I’ve been in office is to make sure we remove those barriers. So these people who need our help the most will be able to access the help we offer. I know that the Vice President and the President share the same values. And again, I was on the ground Friday and Saturday, and I made a commitment then to the governor that we will provide assistance to all Floridians because we know there are people who are just completely devastated by the storm. We will be there to support anyone who 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 will get relief. How do you react to that again?
DEANNE CRISWELL: That again, Margaret, our programs support everyone. I will say that I believe some of the things that the vice president talked about is the long-term recovery and rebuilding of these communities so that they can withstand disasters so that they can have less impact. We will support all communities. I committed it to the governor, I committed it to you right here, that all Floridians will be able to get the help that is available to them through our programs.
MARGARET BRENNAN: Administrator and you also want to look, I imagine outside of Florida in Puerto Rico as well?
DEANNE CRISWELL: We haven’t left Puerto Rico. We know they are still responding to the impacts they are having from Hurricane Fiona. Another very destructive hurricane that hit the island just a few weeks ago. We have a strong team that has been there and worked, they will continue to work, and I will travel with the president tomorrow to talk to people first hand with him and see what is right, we just want to make sure . that we give them everything they need to support their recovery efforts.
MARGARET BRENNAN: All right, Administrator — good luck to you. And Face the Nation is back in a minute. Stay with us.