DONALSONVILLE, Ga. — The numbers, when framed a certain way, seem strong.
When we inquired with FEMA about recovery efforts in Georgia following Hurricane Michael, we received a response with numerous bullet points that described the agency's contributions to a badly damaged region. FEMA approved more than $12.5 million for more than 5,000 survivors, it said, via the Individuals and Households Program.
But those numbers exclude another: the 35,674 survivors who submitted valid registrations to FEMA for assistance. Roughly 14% - fewer than 1 in 7 who applied - were approved.
"You had FEMA come and promise all these things," said Councilmember Mitzy Moye of Donalsonville, "and maybe a handful of people got something, but nothing like what they had."
Moye spoke about her city's recovery from the hotel room of a Days Inn. Her husband and she are staying there until their house is repaired. She estimates roughly 800 families are still displaced, one year after Michael.
"We've got President Trump's cap over there," Moye says of the candidate she was proud to support. "If y'all are watching, come down."
And FEMA? "I have so much as said, 'They're a joke.' And I challenge them to correct me. Give people what they said they were going to give them. Quit making it rocket science. It's not."
A FEMA spokesperson sent a lengthy explanation of why an applicant would be ineligible for its Individual and Households Program. Among the reasons, she said:
- "By law, FEMA cannot duplicate benefits from other sources, including private insurance."
- "FEMA may provide assistance when the survivor's primary residence is uninhabitable or inaccessible" - or, by federal definition, one that is not "safe, sanitary, and functional."
- "FEMA isn't the team; it is part of the team."
In visiting Donalsonville, we heard from residents about the many challenges involved in recovery. Some spoke of being ripped off by contractors. Others said they were shortchanged by insurance companies. And several mentioned being denied by FEMA - and still dealing with sizable damage to their homes.