Magazine article Policy & Practice

Florida Aids Hurricane Katrina Survivors

Magazine article Policy & Practice

Florida Aids Hurricane Katrina Survivors

Article excerpt

In response to the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina, Florida's Department of Children and Families (DCF) partnered with other state agencies to help Gulf Coast evacuees while they relocate within the state. Under Gov. Jeb Bush's leadership, a multi-agency task force, including the Department of Emergency Management, the Agency for Health Care Administration, the Agency for Workforce Innovation, and many others, was developed and led by DCF to provide services for evacuees from Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Immediately after the storm, state agencies provided essential services by streamlining benefits for evacuees so they could get clear answers about food stamps, crisis counseling, unemployment compensation, health and human services, education, missing persons, insurance assistance, temporary housing, driver's licenses, veterans' benefits, document preservation, and financial assistance. As of early October, Florida's commitment to helping its neighboring states had exceeded $129 million. As recovery operations continued in areas struck by Hurricane Katrina, Florida rolled out 1,171 trucks of water, 814 trucks of ice, 43 trucks of food, 3,688 cases of baby food, 3,133 cases of formula, and 1,200 cases of baby juice.

In a combined effort to respond to the overflow of calls and requests for information, the state unveiled a web portal on Sept. 9 to help evacuees about storm recovery and relief. The web site, http://www.myflorida.com, includes one-stop information on services available for evacuees in Florida and access to relief organizations.

State officials agreed that the goal was to care for evacuees as if they were Floridians and help them in every way possible. "Those displaced by Hurricane Katrina that found solace and shelter in Florida need fast and easy access to the relief and services offered by governments, local organizations and charities," said Bush.

By collaborating with agency counterparts in the affected areas, DCF made applying for food stamps and Medicaid as simple as if they were registering in their own states. The department's ACCESS Florida web site, www.dcf.state.fl.us/katrina, and the toll-free number, 1-866-76ACCES, were modified to accommodate the three affected states. DCF program experts were located at shelters in the northern part of the state for weeks directly after the storm to provide assistance. …

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