Hurricane Ian on Monday became the eighth U.S. disaster to generate more than $1 billion in Federal Emergency Management Agency relief payments to individuals, according to FEMA records going back to 2002.
Since the Category 4 hurricane struck Florida and South Carolina in October, FEMA has given out $1.01 billion through its Individual Assistance program, which pays for minor home repairs, short-term hotel stays and other emergency expenses for residents of eligible counties. The figure is likely to increase as FEMA continues to process aid applications.
Almost all the aid has gone to Florida residents, and more than 40 percent has gone to people in Lee County on Florida’s southwest coast, FEMA records show.
The amount of disaster relief reflects both Hurricane Ian’s widespread damage and FEMA policies established in 2021 aimed at making it easier for people to qualify for federal assistance.
NOAA rates Ian as the third most costly U.S. disaster since 1980, behind only Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and just ahead of Hurricane Maria in 2017. NOAA estimates Ian caused $113 billion in damage and killed 152 people.
President Joe Biden approved disaster aid for residents in 26 of Florida’s 67 counties and in three of South Carolina’s 46 counties.
FEMA spokesperson Jeremy Edwards told E&E News that $212 million of the Individual Assistance — 21 percent of the total — has gone to people who “would not have received this assistance” under the agency’s former policies.
FEMA expanded the types of documentation that people can use to prove that they live in a disaster area or are owners of a home that was damaged. FEMA also lowered the damage threshold for people to qualify for home repair funds (Climatewire, Sept. 9, 2021).
The revisions by FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell ease barriers that some low-income and minority residents had faced because they lacked formal documentation such as a property deed or lived in homes that were inexpensive to repair.
Edwards said the revisions mean that “all people, including those from vulnerable and underserved communities, are better able to access this assistance.”
FEMA has approved 56 percent of the aid applications related to Ian, according to an E&E News analysis of agency records. That’s slightly higher than FEMA’s historical approval rate of 54 percent, though the approval rate for Ian could increase as FEMA processes appeals by people who were denied.
Under the Biden administration, FEMA has approved 64 percent of aid applications.
Hurricane Katrina resulted in FEMA paying $6.7 billion in individual disaster aid — the most by a wide margin and more than three times second-place Hurricane Ida, which generated $1.9 billion in payments after causing major damage in Louisiana, New York and New Jersey in 2021.
The other disasters that generated more than $1 billion in FEMA aid to individuals are Hurricanes Harvey and Maria, Superstorm Sandy in 2012, Hurricane Rita in 2005, and Hurricane Irma in 2017.
FEMA’s publicly available records of aid payments do not include Hurricane Andrew, which was the nation’s most destructive disaster when it demolished South Florida in 1992.