FEMA vs. Florida Papers

Florida’s Gannett owned newspapers, News Press, Florida Today and the Pensacola News Journal will not be receiving the names of people FEMA gave money to after the hurricane season. Read the article here.

The papers had sued FEMA for a list of names and addresses of all the people who received government aid because they wanted to “examine alleged inequities and fraud in the distribution of more than $1.5 billion to assist in recovery after the hurricanes.” The papers lost out in federal court on Friday to FEMA who argued, “it needed to protect the privacy of these disaster victims.”

The newspapers did gain access in regards to correspondence between state and federal officials as well as details on FEMA contracts with companies conducting disaster inspections.

I agree with the courts ruling on this matter.

I believe correspondence between government officials and contracts should be available to the press and the public. The people elect these officials and their decisions and actions should be watched, talked about, and debated upon. Their jobs directly affect the people around them.

Though I think that the distribution of the $1.5 billion is important, I don’t believe that FEMA should have to hand over the names and addresses of people who were affected by the hurricane season and received money.

$1.5 billion is a lot of money. I’m not sure how much of it actually went to individuals. Perhaps the journalists could start with how much of it didn’t go to individual people and work backwards.

“United States District Judge John E. Steele agreed with the government on that point, stating that victims could be stigmatized and potential victims of theft if they were identified as having recieved public aid.”

Some of these people have lost their homes, their cars, everything. They shouldn’t be a target for theft now, too. If journalists at these newspapers really wanted to find out who received money and how much, they’ll just have to hit the pavement and ask people themselves – though I doubt many would oblige to share that info.

Personal finances are a touchy subject. Unless people have a beef with how much they were allotted by the government I don’t think many of them would offer up that information.

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