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Hurricane Idalia: cash assistance and emergency relief for Florida communities hit by disaster

Homes in Hernando County, Florida in the midst of Hurricane Idalia. All photos: Feeding Tampa Bay

Homes in Hernando County, Florida in the midst of Hurricane Idalia. All photos: Feeding Tampa Bay

With wind speeds reaching 125 miles per hour and a storm surge in some places of nearly ten feet, Hurricane Idalia made landfall on the Gulf Coast of Florida Wednesday morning as a Category 3 storm.

Idalia is the strongest storm to strike the area in more than 125 years, and, as of Wednesday evening, the storm is on track to continue through Georgia, Alabama and the Carolinas, putting communities in its path at risk of flash floods, high winds, and power outages.

Many Florida communities — including Tampa Bay and rural areas along the northern Gulf coast — are still recovering from Hurricane Ian, which ripped through the region last November, causing nearly $100 billion in damages.

These same communities will now likely face challenges meeting basic needs, including the risk of weeks without power, and, for some, long-term displacement.

Slipping through the cracks of disaster

A first-responder in Hernando County, Florida.

While Florida has a robust state emergency response team and is receiving funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, post-disaster studies have shown that these systems don’t always account for communities that are – for a multitude of reasons – unable to access their services.

Many families were unable to relocate safely due to financial burdens. Others live in smaller communities that will not receive local and state support on the same scale as larger cities. Vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and families with young children, will need last-mile delivery of goods and services.

As it was in the aftermath of Ian, many of the most vulnerable families without the resources to deal with the financial strain of the crisis don’t have the reserves to rebound from catastrophe either.

Cash relief

A truck trying to travel the flooded roads in Hernando County, Florida.

Since 2020, CARE has worked to create a network of humanitarian partners around the U.S., particularly locally led organizations rooted in their communities, to provide food, jobs, and emergency resources through the CARE Partner Relief network.

Last year, the the network mobilized a rapid response to Hurricane Ian, providing $238,500 in emergency cash assistance to 258 families, 92% of them women-headed households and 96% Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC).

In response to Idalia, CARE is working with Feeding Tampa Bay (FTB), a CARE Network partner that collaborated successfully with CARE during its response to Hurricane Ian and that focusses on one of the regions Idalia’s landfall has hit the hardest.

For the immediate relief phase, CARE and its partners are providing up to $1,000 in cash assistance to affected families, so they can purchase items they need to weather this crisis.

CARE is widely respected worldwide for its experience in effectively using cash interventions as a tool during emergencies. In the U.S., cash is often what families need most, yet is an underused tool in the emergency relief space. As the New York Times notes, “when natural disasters arise, so do the opportunities for fraudsters who prey on people in need and exploit the generous impulses of others,” which is another reason direct assistance can be effective.

New York Times, August 31, 2023

Cash will ensure that families can meet their unique needs and have access to essential foods, medicines, and hygiene supplies. It’s especially helpful for women and girls, as their needs are often overlooked during a crisis. No major humanitarian relief organization in the U.S. other than CARE is specifically targeting women-led, BIPOC families even though it is these communities who often bear the worst of a disaster’s impact.

Many residences have had to deal with deadly storm surges and flooding in the wake of Idalia's landfall.

Earlier this year, in advance of the peak of hurricane season, when CARE USA announced the launch of its CARE Partner Network, Amir Farokhi, Executive Director of CARE’s US Programs, noted that a significant amount of aid and resources after an emergency does not reach those who need it most – either because residents cannot physically reach distribution centers, or because they do not know how to access available resources – including critically-needed cash assistance.

“We know that disasters hit the most vulnerable – especially woman, children, and people of color – the hardest, which is why we set up the CARE Partner Network in the U.S.,” said Farokhi on Wednesday. “Through established networks in the respective communities they serve, Feeding Tampa Bay will be able to rapidly support families who were hit hard by this devastating storm.”

“Our team and those we serve are so thankful for our partnership with CARE,” Matt Spence, Chief Programs Officer at Feeding Tampa Bay, said. “This funding will go directly into the hands of our neighbors who have already experienced hardships and now have been impacted by Hurricane Idalia.”

Hernando County after Idalia made landfall.
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