OCTOBER 10, 2006
Millions of taxpayer dollars targeted for hurricane victim “crisis counseling” were spent on ridiculous things like puppet shows, bingo and yoga classes because the government let a state agency notorious for mismanagement handle the program.
The scandal-plagued Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) gave the equally problematic Florida Department of Children and Families nearly $23 million last year to help victims recover from the “psychological aftermath” of the storms by supposedly providing emotional support to the victims. Ideally, the services were to be provided by mental health professionals.
Instead, a South Florida newspaper investigation reveals that the public funds paid the salaries of 450 workers across the state that spent most of their time performing shows, leading games and conducting yoga classes. One former worker in Palm Beach County called it “a waste of taxpayer money” and said she often felt guilty collecting a paycheck.
This outrageous abuse of taxpayer dollars has been going on for years in the storm-ridden Sunshine State. Since 2004, Florida has received nearly $50 million of federal funds for this sort of post hurricane crisis counseling. Program directors claim that their work is so stressful counselors regularly attend “stress management” sessions that include collecting shells on the beach and art therapy.
The so-called crisis counseling grants were passed by Congress more than three decades ago as part of a disaster relief law. Last year alone, FEMA approved solicitations from 28 states and issued $109 million. Problem is, the government doesn’t track the program’s effectiveness once the check is cut. Neither do the states, which gladly spend the federal millions. Perhaps this is what led a Democrat Florida Senator, running for reelection, to acknowledge “some red flags” with how the money is being spent.
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