Fact Check: Tweets – Months after Hurricane Ian, what happened to the Florida Disaster Fund?
When Hurricane Ian struck Florida in September 2022, the state’s first lady, Casey DeSantis, announced that a fund to provide aid after emergencies or disasters was open for donations.
The fund raised millions of dollars, but some are now questioning where the money went.
“I told you, Casey DeSantis straight up defrauded the American people during Florida’s biggest crisis,” said a March 13 tweet from a fiercely anti-Republican account called “Resist Republicans in Florida.” “$70 Million and NO one got (a) dime.”
The tweet included a photo with text that read, “Casey DeSantis took in $35 million for her own ‘hurricane relief’ fund, but has no oversight. Without oversight, she can pay her bills with it.”
Did no one receive aid from the fund?
Bryan Griffin, the governor’s press secretary, told PolitiFact that was “false” and “outlandish.”
And we found no evidence to back up the claim.
Established in 2004, the state-administered Florida Disaster Fund helps Floridians and communities recover from emergencies by collecting private donations and distributing the money to service organizations.
Contrary to the tweet’s assertion that there was no oversight, the fund is administered by the Volunteer Florida Foundation, which is overseen by the Florida Commission on Community Service under the governor’s office. The foundation is a “direct-support organization,” which is a nonprofit corporation authorized to perform tasks in support of public entities or public causes.
Donations to the disaster fund are made to the Volunteer Florida Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization, and are tax deductible.
When Hurricane Ian made landfall in Florida on Sept. 28, 2022, Casey DeSantis became the public face of the fund. On Oct. 1, 2022, she announced that within 48 hours of the recovery effort’s activation, the fund had raised more than $20 million in donations. Major donors included AirBnB, Amazon, Microsoft and Walmart, among others.
The fund continued to raise additional money over the next few weeks: The foundation’s 2022 annual report said the fund had raised over $60 million in donations after Hurricane Ian.
We asked the Volunteer Florida Foundation about what role Casey DeSantis plays in the Volunteer Florida Foundation and whether she oversees the collection or distribution of the dollars collected. A spokesperson told PolitiFact said the first lady has helped “raise awareness” about the fund, but did not provide specifics.
The Volunteer Florida Foundation provided a document to PolitiFact showing that the total revenue collected from Sept. 28 to March 16 amounted to $61.3 million.
Of this amount, $22 million in projects were labeled “expedited grants,” meaning they have already been distributed. Another $2.2 million in donations has been committed, but not yet collected, the foundation said. The remainder has not been spent.
PolitiFact went through the grants that were announced by the governor and the first lady, and the amount totaled $53 million. The foundation did not have an immediate explanation for this discrepancy with the roughly $61 million shown in the documents.
The grants made so far have primarily gone to either nonprofit groups or foundations attached to governmental entities.
This report said that over five rounds of response grants, the foundation has distributed among 34 nonprofit organizations, which provided services like home repair for first responders, rebuilding services for affected homes and food and emergency supplies distribution, among others.
Some organizations that received grants include Save the Children, The Salvation Army and Feeding Florida.
PolitiFact reached out to the Twitter user who made this claim but did not receive a response.
A social media post said “no one got (a) dime” from the $70 million raised for the Florida Disaster Fund.
The Volunteer Florida Foundation, which administers the fund, provided summary reports showing that out of the $61 million raised so far, $22 million has been distributed.
To say that tens of millions of dollars has not been spent, contrary to official documentation, is an extraordinary claim that lacks evidence. We rate this claim False.
PolitiFact researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report.