Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Half that tree, a phone book, and a broken arm, that's all we had left."

FEMA is people.

People like the family in rural Alabama whose entire life disintegrated in the wind. The title of this post came from them. They are trying to rebuild, living in a FEMA trailer and getting regular visits from case workers who work with them to find a permanent place to live. Except thanks to Republicans, now they might not.

People like the students in northwest Alabama whose high school, the one thing that holds the town together, was ripped apart. They’re meeting in temporary buildings right now, provided by the good citizens of the United States of America by way of FEMA. Because of Republicans in Congress, a new school building is now uncertain.

People like me and those I work with in Birmingham, Alabama. FEMA has a policy to hire local people for disaster recovery. It’s good pay although the hours are brutal-when I started back in May it was 12 hours a day 7 days a week.

The local jobs are the silver lining to a disaster like the April 27 tornadoes. I was able to get off unemployment. Some of my co-workers can pay off student loans. Now our jobs are in jeopardy and the people we are working to help are left hanging.

The people who work for FEMA in disasters are not regular federal employees. Some are reservists who are deployed to a disaster like a flood in Fargo or a tornado in Missouri, away from their families for months so they can help someone else. Some are local hires like me, who can connect with their communities.

They are case managers, who work with individuals and families who have suffered enormous losses to try and regain a sense of normalcy. They are crisis counselors, who go out in the community, sometimes door to door, to help heal the psychologically wounded.

Here in Alabama and across the county, we have seen amazing responses from volunteers and donors. We help each other here, and we are justifiably proud of how far we’ve come. But that doesn’t mean it’s all we need.

Federal disaster assistance, in the form of grants and loans and people, is how all our citizens pitch in to help.

Republicans (including the ones in Alabama and Missouri and Virginia and Texas and all those other places blown away or washed away or burned up) believe that corporations are people but federal agencies aren’t. It’s a fallacy at best and a cruel and vicious lie at worst.

We are Americans and we care for each other. FEMA is people.

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