October 10, 2023

Hurricane Idalia Response: Safety Net Policy Tracker

On August 30, 2023, Hurricane Idalia made landfall on Florida’s Gulf Coast as a strong Category 3 hurricane. As it barreled across the state, Idalia left destruction along its path. The road to recovery will be long and arduous, and many Floridians will be dealing with the aftermath long after Idalia leaves the news cycle.

As federal, state, and local governments respond to this disaster, it is critical that public resources are utilized to ensure an equitable recovery — one that rebuilds what was lost and damaged, and one that also strengthens Florida’s communities and the environment to withstand future disasters. 

Below are resources that have been mobilized by federal, state, and local government agencies to provide relief to Floridians impacted by Hurricane Idalia. As the damage is assessed and recovery efforts are implemented, agencies will respond by making changes to policies and programs, often on a daily or even hourly basis. FPI will continue to update this page to reflect the most up-to-date information.

At the request of Gov. DeSantis, President Biden has declared a major disaster for Individual Assistance purposes in the following counties to date due to Hurricane Idalia:

  • Charlotte
  • Citrus
  • Columbia
  • Dixie
  • Gilchrist
  • Hamilton
  • Hernando
  • Hillsborough
  • Jefferson
  • Lafayette
  • Levy
  • Madison
  • Manatee
  • Pasco
  • Pinellas
  • Sarasota
  • Suwannee
  • Taylor

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)

FEMA, part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is the primary federal agency to provide assistance before, during, and after disasters. Florida is located within FEMA’s Region 4 office, headquartered in Atlanta, GA. Governors make requests for major disaster or emergency declarations through the regional FEMA office. Once a declaration is made, the state and residents can access an array of assistance and services. FEMA disaster assistance is provided under three broad categories:

  1. individuals and households, for housing, business recovery, unemployment assistance, and other needs;
  2. public entities, including certain nonprofit organizations, for repair and rebuilding public facilities and infrastructure; and
  3. for hazard mitigation to gird against future disasters and potential losses. 

This tracker will focus on individuals and households.

Note on eligibility: For most assistance from FEMA (e.g., cash assistance, including Disaster Unemployment Assistance), applicants must be a U.S. Citizen, Non-Citizen National, or a Qualified Alien to qualify. Anyone can apply for and receive FEMA-funded  Crisis Counseling, Disaster Legal Services, and short-term, non-cash, emergency aid regardless of their immigration status if otherwise eligible. Ineligible immigrants can apply for FEMA assistance on behalf of their U.S. citizen child or another adult household member.

To apply for FEMA assistance, individuals can visit disasterassistance.gov, use the FEMA mobile app, or call 1-800-621-3362 or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY). Applications can also be made in person at Disaster Recovery Centers.  [CH1] 

Disaster Recovery Centers (DRCs)

DRCs are mobile or brick-and-mortar locations within affected communities where Idalia survivors can apply for FEMA assistance or check on existing FEMA applications. In addition, DRCs are often staffed with other agencies and nonprofit organizations who can provide other kinds of assistance with disaster recovery. A list of DRC locations is here.

Housing Assistance

Homeowners and renters affected by Hurricane Idalia in the designated counties eligible for financial and direct services may apply for FEMA disaster assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov, by calling 800-621-FEMA (3362), or by using the FEMA App

FEMA disaster assistance may include financial help with temporary lodging and home repairs, as well as other disaster-related expenses for damage and losses not covered by homeowners, renters, or flood insurance. This includes: temporary housing, damage repair not covered by insurance, funds to replace damaged homes, and grants for the construction of a new home (in very limited circumstances). The following information will be required when applying: 

  • a current phone number where you can be contacted
  • your address at the time of the disaster and the address where you are now staying
  • your Social Security number
  • a general list of damage and losses
  • proof of your household’s total income, before taxes, at the time of the disaster
  • banking information if you choose direct deposit
  • if insured, the policy number or the agent and/or the company name

If you have homeowners, renters, or flood insurance, you should file a claim immediately. FEMA cannot duplicate benefits for losses already covered by insurance. If your policy does not cover all your disaster expenses, you may be eligible for federal assistance. Take photos to document damage and begin cleanup and repairs to prevent further damage. Remember to keep receipts from all purchases related to the cleanup and repair. If you are initially turned down, it is advisable to appeal the decision as many initial claim rejections can be turned into acceptable claims with a few tweaks. To ensure that a FEMA representative inspects your home, you should call and check back periodically.

Information on filing a flood claim through the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) can be found here. You must have a policy through the NFIP to file a claim.

For future reference about climate hazard risks and preparation options in your location, Hazard Aware is a free service that provides in-depth analyses and practical advice.

Other FEMA Assistance

FEMA also provides financial help for necessary non-housing needs that are directly related to the disaster in the following areas:

  • personal property, such as clothing; household items; tools, clothing and equipment required for employment; computers, books, supplies, etc., required for school
  • transportation, including repair or replacement of vehicles, and public transportation costs
  • funeral expenses 
  • moving and storage expenses 
  • some medical and dental expenses
  • child care
  • clean up items

Disaster Legal Services Advice Hotline

The Disaster Legal Services Advice Hotline is a FEMA-funded free legal aid hotline for disaster-related problems for Idilia survivors in Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Sarasota, Suwannee or Taylor counties who cannot afford an attorney. The hotline number is 866-550-2929. Callers may be instructed to say that they are seeking storm-related legal assistance, indicate the county in which they are located, and state their legal problem(s). Among the many legal issues that callers may be able to get help with are FEMA benefits, home repairs contracts, insurance claims, wills, scams, landlord/tenant problems, and access to disaster assistance.

Florida Housing Finance Corporation 

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation has updated its Disaster Relief webpage to provide families with information on housing resources and assistance. This webpage will continue to be updated as more information becomes available.

  • Florida Housing has ensured that all listings are up to date in the event that your family has been displaced and you need to quickly relocate. To find an affordable rental property, click here. If you do not have internet access, you may also call the following toll-free number for assistance in conducting a search: 1-877-428-8844.
  • If your home sustained damage as a result of the storm, your local State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) office may have recovery assistance available to help with temporary relocation, rental assistance, debris removal and/or home repairs. Please contact your local office directly for more information. You can find your local office by clicking here

Florida Department of Commerce (DOC) 

DOC is the lead state agency focused on economic development. DOC administers the state’s Unemployment Insurance program, among other programs aimed at business development, community development and planning, and workforce development and statistics.

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA)  provides unemployment assistance to people in FEMA disaster-declared counties whose employment or self-employment has been impacted as a direct result of Hurricane Idalia if they are not eligible for regular Unemployment Insurance (UI).

Although more may be added, the counties in which people may be eligible for DUA include:

  • Citrus
  • Columbia
  • Dixie
  • Gilchrist
  • Hamilton
  • Hernando
  • Jefferson
  • Lafayette
  • Levy
  • Madison
  • Manatee
  • Pasco
  • Pinellas
  • Sarasota
  • Suwannee
  • Taylor

Eligible workers include but are not limited to people who are self-employed, gig and part-time workers, and workers who have already exhausted their regular Reemployment Assistance (RA). Generally, citizens and immigrants who have work authorization can collect DUA. More detailed eligibility criteria is here.

Applicants must file for state Reemployment Assistance benefits first, before filing for DUA. During the application, claimants should note whether their work has been impacted by the disaster. If applicants are determined ineligible for Reemployment Assistance, DOC will automatically prompt them to file a DUA application if they said that their job was impacted by the disaster. DUA is available for weeks of unemployment beginning September 3, 2023, until March 2, 2024­­­­­­­­­­­.

Other information about DUA, including eligibility criteria and the link to apply, can be found here, or applicants can go to a local CareerSource Center. For help applying, call 1-800-385-3920 to speak with a representative.

DUA applications must be submitted by October 3, 2023, in every county but Pinellas, where DUA applications must be submitted by October 5, 2023, and Manatee and Sarasota, where the deadline to apply for DUA is October 11, 2023.

Reemployment Assistance

DOC has waived Reemployment Assistance work search reporting, wait week, and Employ Florida registration requirements beginning Sept. 3, 2023, through Oct. 21, 2023, in the following FEMA disaster-declared counties:

  • Citrus
  • Columbia
  • Dixie
  • Gilchrist
  • Hamilton
  • Hernando
  • Jefferson
  • Lafayette
  • Levy
  • Madison
  • Manatee
  • Pasco
  • Sarasota
  • Suwannee
  • Taylor

Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF)

DCF provides a range of social services to children, adults, and families in Florida in disaster situations. This includes programs to support household and family self-sufficiency through economic, medical and food support.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

SNAP is the most important safety net protecting Floridians from food insecurity. SNAP provides grocery assistance to households with low income who are struggling to put food on the table. In a hurricane, SNAP plays a pivotal role in making sure that disaster survivors can access food.

Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) 

D-SNAP provides food assistance to households with significant disaster-related expenses who are not eligible for regular SNAP. D-SNAP does not look at citizenship status, impose a work requirement, or preclude college students from participating.  DCF says that an announcement about D-SNAP for Hurricane Idalia is coming soon.

For now, DCF announced the availability of online pre-registration for D-SNAP for people who live or work in Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Suwannee, and Taylor counties from Friday, September 22, 2023, at 1:00 a.m. through Thursday, September 28, 2023 at 11:00 p.m.

Note that, for Citrus County, DCF reopened pre-registration for people who did not previously pre-register online. For these residents, online pre-registration was available at www.myflfamilies.com/DSNAP from Friday, September 29 through Sunday October 1, 2023.  

After pre-registration is complete, DCF says that applicants in the above 11 counties will be required to call the D-SNAP Call Center at 888-348-0408 or 855-278-7136 on a designated day based on the first letter of an applicant's last name to complete a phone interview. The call center’s hours are: 7:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m., EST.

For those who cannot pre-register online or be interviewed by phone, DCF will hold in-person events. The locations have yet to be announced.

For those who cannot pre-register online or be interviewed by phone, DCF will hold in-person events. The locations and dates are posted here.

An announcement about how people in other affected areas can apply for D-SNAP for Hurricane Idalia is coming soon.

Supplemental SNAP

Supplemental SNAP is extra SNAP for people who were receiving benefits when the disaster happened that were not at maximum amount for their household size. In those cases, DCF may issue supplemental benefits to bring SNAP allotments for affected households in the disaster area up to the maximum allotment for a household of their size. For existing SNAP participants in Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Suwannee, and Taylor counties, benefits to bring SNAP allotments up to the maximum allotment for a household of their size were automatically applied to EBT cards beginning September 28, 2023, without any need for households to apply.

Replacement SNAP

Replacement SNAP allows households already participating in SNAP to get food replaced that has been destroyed in a disaster. For Hurricane Idalia, DCF automatically replaced 70 percent of SNAP benefits that were received between Aug. 15 and Aug. 28 for households who did not receive their September benefits early in the following counties: Citrus, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Hernando, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Madison, Pasco, Suwannee, Taylor, and Wakulla. Replacement benefits should have been issued to EBT cards on September 5, 2023. However, for residents of Dixie, Hamilton, Jefferson, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee, and Taylor counties, DCF extended the period for participants to apply for food lost due to Hurricane Idalia through September 19, 2023. Households were able to apply for food replacement by completing this form.

Households in counties that did not get automatic replacement of SNAP due to Hurricane Idalia are able to apply individually for food replacement if they lost food bought with SNAP due to the storm by filling out this form. DCF warns that the form is due within 10 days of the loss.

DCF says that replacement issuances were made for the amount of the loss, up to the total amount of the benefit issued for the month.

Hot Foods

DCF obtained permission from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services to allow households in affected counties to purchase hot and prepared food, such as hot deli food, food from the salad bar, sandwiches, and fountain drinks, with their SNAP assistance. This waiver runs through September 30, 2023, unless extended, and applies to the following counties:

  • Alachua
  • Baker
  • Citrus
  • Columbia
  • Dixie
  • Gilchrist
  • Hamilton
  • Hernando
  • Hillsborough
  • Jefferson
  • Lafayette
  • Leon
  • Levy
  • Madison
  • Marion
  • Pasco
  • Pinellas
  • Polk
  • Sumter
  • Suwanee
  • Taylor
  • Union
  • Wakulla

Family Resource Centers

DCF has opened Family Resource Support Centers with staff on site, including Hope Navigators, behavioral health partners who specialize in disaster recovery response, and public benefit eligibility specialists to help individuals and families.

Click here for location information and hours.

U.S. Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)

FNS has granted the Florida Department of Health’s request to allow operators in the Child Care Food Program (CCFP) to provide meals in a non-congregate setting. Among other flexibilities, the waiver allows  Florida Child Care Food Program (CCFP) institutions and sponsoring organizations, which are part of the federal Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), to serve meals in a non-congregate setting, adjust the time of meal service, allow parent and guardian meal pick up, and waive meal pattern requirements and educational or enrichment activity requirements for the at-risk component.

FNS has also granted the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ request to permit operators of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), and Seamless Summer Option (SSO) to serve meals in a non-congregate setting, adjust mealtime, allow parent pick up of food, and to serve meals at school sites through September 30, 2023. If school buildings are closed but classes are being held virtually, FNS will allow schools to serve NSLP and School Breakfast Program (SBP) meals in a non-congregate setting, adjust the time of meal service, and permit parent pick up, among other flexibilities.

U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA)

The SBA provides capital and business development assistance to help grow and build small businesses. In response to disasters, the SBA provides low-interest loans to homeowners and business owners to pay for damages that are not covered by insurance. The SBA provides three types of disaster loans: 1) home disaster loans to repair or replace homes; 2) business physical disaster loans, to repair or replace business property; and 3) economic injury disaster loans, to provide assistance to small businesses and agricultural cooperatives to meet their expenses during the disaster period and until they resume normal business. 

Click here for information on applying for an SBA loan.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)

CMS is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). CMS administers the Medicare program and works in partnership with state governments to administer Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program (CHIP). 

State of Florida Waivers

Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra used his authority in the Public Health Service Act to declare a Non-Covid Public Health Emergency (PHE) , effective August 30, 2023, giving CMS the flexibility to support beneficiaries in Florida. These flexibilities are applied through waivers that the state or individual care providers can adopt.

  • Florida’s 1812f Waiver – allows Medicare to pay for care in a skilled nursing facility (SNF) without the requirement of a three consecutive day stay or the requirement of at least 60 consecutive days in a non-institutional or custodial level of care. This is useful for individuals who are evacuated, transferred, or potentially face other disruptions from the hurricane.
  • Florida’s 1135 Waiver -  waives a wide range of requirements under section 1135(b) of the Social Security Act that would otherwise complicate care during a disaster. This waiver allows for the following flexibilities, effective September 2, 2023:
    -Less strict conditions for participation, certification requirements, and program participation for individual providers to provide care
    -Allows physicians from other states to provide services in Florida if they have an equivalent license from another state
    -Allows the relocation of patients to receive medical screening, and relocation of patients who have not been stabilized if the transfer is necessary because of Hurricane Idalia
    -Allows flexibilities for physician referrals
    -Allows certain flexibilities for HIPAA and privacy regulations
    -Allows flexibilities to modify deadlines and timetables to ensure that services are available to those who need them  
    -Health care providers who need additional flexibilities specific to the effects resulting from Hurricane Idalia can submit a request to CMS here.
  • Blanket Waivers - Do not require forms to be submitted, these are applied automatically by CMS surveyors. They include but are not limited to the following for different types of service providers (full details can be seen at the link for blanket waivers):
    -Expanded telehealth services
    -Offsite hospital screening for patients in need of mental or physical care
    -Flexibilities for Medical staff requirements in terms of credentialing within the state
    -Allowing longer times to submit medical records to care for patients during the emergency
    -Allows longer stays for certain individuals in need of care for those on Medicare
    -Flexibilities in physical environment requirements for providing care
    -Flexibilities in data reporting requirements

Medical Equipment and Supplies Replacements 

CMS will temporarily waive certain requirements to enable people with Medicare who have lost or sustained damage to their durable medical equipment, prosthetics, orthotics, and supplies as a result of the hurricane to receive replacements of such items and services. This will help to ensure beneficiaries can continue to access the needed medical equipment and supplies they rely on each day. Medicare beneficiaries can contact 1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227) for assistance.

Dialysis Care

CMS is helping people obtain and maintain access to critical life-saving services by activating the Kidney Community Emergency Response (KCER) program and working with End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) Network 7, which is responsible under a contract with CMS for assessing the status of dialysis facilities in potentially impacted areas of the State of Florida. The ESRD Network 7 (Florida) toll-free hotline is 800-826-3773. Additional information is available here on the KCER website.

Special Enrollment Periods for Hurricane Victims

Open enrollment in Florida begins on November 1, 2023. If a qualified individual is unable to enroll in a Qualified Health Insurance Plan due to Hurricane Idalia during the 60-day enrollment period, the individual and their dependents will be eligible for an Exceptional Circumstances Special Enrollment Period that allows them to enroll in coverage after the deadline. To request an Exceptional Circumstances SEP, FEMA-emergency affected individuals must contact the Marketplace Call Center at 1-800-318-2596 or TTY at 1- 855-889-4325 and indicate they were eligible for another enrollment window but were unable to complete their enrollment due to a FEMA-designated emergency or disaster.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) 

SAMHSA is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation. 

SAMHSA Disaster Preparedness and Recovery

The Disaster Distress Helpline is a national hotline dedicated to providing year-round immediate crisis counseling for people who are experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. This toll-free, multilingual, and confidential crisis support service is available to all residents in the United States and its territories. Call 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746 to connect with a trained crisis counselor. 

Additional Mental Health Support

Peer Support Space, Incorporated is offering free, online community support for Floridians who may be suffering from hurricane anxiety and PTSD. Anyone 18 and older can participate at noon or 6 p.m. Email mary@peersupportspace.org for the link to join.  Learn more about the program here.

Local Governmental Resources

  • Citrus – For information on current disasters (not 911), call (352) 249-2775 during the emergency period or (352) 249-2790 or visit the sheriff’s emergency management page. To get phone, text, or email alerts on weather, sign up for AlertCitrus. Connect with the county by visiting the county’s webpage. Follow on social media via Facebook or LinkedIn.
  • Columbia – For information on emergency operations, to register for special needs shelters, find state and federal disaster resources, and information on emergency declarations visit the county’s emergency management page. Follow the county on social media by visiting the county Facebook page.
  • Dixie – To get information on registering for special needs shelters, to sign-up for DixieAlert for alerts on community emergencies, and to get help with coping with disasters visit the county’s emergency management website. Follow the county on Facebook.
  • Gilchrist - Visit the county’s hurricane recovery website to get information connecting to county, state, and federal hurricane resources, as well as hurricane clean up. Follow the county on Facebook for additional information on county emergency management updates.
  • Hamilton - Get information before, during and after a disaster by visiting the County Sheriff’s Office Division of Emergency Management website.
  • Hernando -  Sign up for Alert Hernando to get updates and find information on shelters, making disaster plans, registering for special needs shelters, and hurricane debris removal by visiting the county’s Emergency Management website.  Get updates on the county’s social media Facebook and Twitter.
  • Jefferson – Visit the county’s emergency management website to get information needed before, during, and after the current emergency, including getting assistance.
  • Lafayette – Get information on important county, state, and federal disaster resources on the county’s emergency management website.
  • Levy – Register for Alert Levy to get updates on severe weather and community emergencies.  Get information on preparing for, weathering, and recovering from disasters on the county’s emergency management website.
  • Madison – For information on recovery from disasters including community service sites, medical resources, disaster clean-up, and county, state and federal resources, visit the county’s Hurricane Idalia Recovery site. To sign up for CodeRed Weather Warning visit the county’s emergency management website
  • Pasco County - Visit the county’s disaster preparedness page to get ready for storms. For updates and information on resources follow the county on social media on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, NextDoor, and PascoTV.
  • Pinellas County - Connect to the Pinellas County emergency operations center, get the latest news and updates, information on closures, and learn how to report damages to your home or business. Connect to Pinellas County social media on Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr.
  • Suwannee – To get information on disaster recover resources from county, state, and federal sources, visit the county’s Hurricane Idalia recovery website. Follow the county on its Facebook page.
  • Taylor – For information on the county’s emergency management plan visit the county website. Visit the Sheriff’s Office Facebook page to get updates on the storm and steps for getting support for hurricane recovery.

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