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What Help Can Be Expected From FEMA And The Federal Government?

Just what type of help will the federal government and FEMA be able to provide for Hurricane Irma relief?

On Tuesday evening, President Donald Trump signed an emergency declaration for the 67 Florida counties. The declaration allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to deploy to the field, WLRN reported earlier this week.

As NPR's Brian Naylor reported recently, Hurricane Harvey -- and now Irma -- are testing the federal agency:

The agency can "easily go through $200 million in a day," according to Elizabeth Zimmerman, a former associate administrator at FEMA, "just gearing up, responding and being prepared for a disaster that's coming." There is at least one more hurricane on the immediate horizon, and it isn't even the peak of the season yet. The agency is also providing funds to help fight wildfires in the West. Zimmerman says FEMA's disaster relief fund is an annual appropriation of roughly $6 billion. It's based on a rolling average of disaster costs over the last 10 years.

WLRN's Luis Hernandez spoke briefly with U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz over the phone about what help people can expect from FEMA and the federal government.

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Credit Miami Herald
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Miami Herald
Debbie Wasserman Schultz

WLRN: Help us understand what people can expect from the federal government and from FEMA after this this storm has passed.

WASSERMAN SCHULTZ: So Congress actually just passed a $15 billion emergency supplemental aid package for the victims of Harvey, and right after were able to secure things here and get folks back on the path to recovery. We'll be going back up to Washington and I'm going to do everything to work with my colleagues, with Marco Rubio earlier, and our entire Congressional delegation will be working together with our other ... colleagues, we're going to need to pass another emergency supplemental aid package. FEMA was going to be running out of the emergency aid funding they have as of tomorrow.

And now we've added that funding to Harvey, but we're going to most definitely need -- probably for sure -- a lot more emergency aid for the aftermath of Irma.

Obviously, Houston is just devastated by Harvey as you've been mentioning. Fairly or unfairly, Katrina may still be on the minds of people. And what they'll remember is how FEMA kind of failed. What do you say to people in South Florida as we're bracing for this?

Katrina was a completely different situation, and a completely different time and we've gotten those things sorted out. There are supplies and equipment pre-positioned. Might have a little bit of difficulty getting them into the state right away, because they're in Alabama and Georgia, but we are prepared. The National Guard and FEMA are really getting everything ready to be able to mobilize as soon as they can get down here. We also have a mass evacuation of people voluntarily leaving and there's going to be a lot of traffic coming back. It's just going to require patience. But I have confidence that federal, state and local governments will be working together to make sure we can get people's lives back on track as soon as we possibly can after the storm.