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The Florida Disaster Fund distributes funds to organizations that conduct disaster response and recovery efforts in communities.
The Volunteer Florida Foundation, which administers the fund, said that $22 million out of the $61 million raised had been distributed as of March 16. The organizations that received grants provided services such as home repair and food distribution.
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 people 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 reading, "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 the claim was "false" and "outlandish."
And we found no evidence to back up the claim.
The state-administered Florida Disaster Fund, established in 2004, helps Floridians and communities recover from emergencies by collecting private donations and distributing the money to service organizations. The fund is administered by the Volunteer Florida Foundation, which the Florida Commission on Community Service oversees under the governor’s office. The foundation is a "direct-support organization," a nonprofit corporation authorized to perform tasks supporting 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 fund's public face. 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.
The fund continued to raise money over the next few weeks: The foundation’s 2022 annual report said the fund had raised more than $60 million in donations after Hurricane Ian.
We asked the Volunteer Florida Foundation about Casey DeSantis’ role 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 provided no specifics.
The Volunteer Florida Foundation provided a document to PolitiFact showing that $61.3 million in revenue was collected from Sept. 28 to March 16.
Of this amount, $22 million in projects were labeled "expedited grants," meaning they have already been distributed. An additional $2.2 million in donations has been committed, but not yet collected, the foundation said. The rest hasn’t been spent.
PolitiFact reviewed the grants the governor and the first lady announced, and found the amount totaled $53 million. The foundation did immediately explain why this total differed from the roughly $61 million shown in the documents.
The grants made so far have gone primarily to 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, including some that repaired homes for first responders, rebuilt hurricane-affected homes and distributed food and emergency supplies. 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 received no 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 had been distributed.
To say that tens of millions of dollars have 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.
Tweet, March 13, 2023
Volunteer Florida, Florida Disaster Fund
Volunteer Florida, 2022 Annual Report
Volunteer Florida, Hurricane Ian Operations Report
News releases from Gov. Ron DeSantis’ staff
Florida Senate, SB 1500 bill analysis and fiscal impact statement
Email interview with Bryan Griffin, press secretary for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, March 16, 2023
Email interview with Volunteer Florida Foundation, March 16, 2023
Florida Division of Emergency Management, First lady DeSantis announces activation of Florida Disaster Fund in preparation for Hurricane Ian, Sept. 28, 2022
Volunteer Florida Foundation, First lady Casey DeSantis announces over $20 million raised within 48 hours of activating the Florida Disaster Fund, Oct. 1, 2022
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