The unprecedented string of hurricanes hitting large areas of the Gulf and southeastern United States and the Caribbean, followed by devastating wildfires in northern California, impacted millions of Americans including thousands of federal employees and many NTEU members.
Starting with Hurricane Harvey, NTEU has provided assistance to our members in multiple ways beginning with the NTEU Disaster Fund. The Fund was established in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans. Since then, it has helped numerous federal employees impacted by natural disasters. Administered by the Federal Employees Education and Assistance (FEEA) Fund, these funds are available to any employee of any NTEU-represented agency, including FDA, recovering from these natural disasters.
I was gratified, but not surprised, by the generous reaction of NTEU members when the call for donations went out. As of now, contributions from NTEU members total $39,764. Originally, NTEU National President Tony Reardon announced that NTEU would match contributions dollar for dollar up to $30,000. However, once Tony saw our members’ generosity eclipse the $30,000 level, he decided that NTEU would match all donations to the disaster fund dollar for dollar to ensure that no employee who needed help would be turned away. In all NTEU communications, members in need have been encouraged to apply for financial assistance. If you need assistance, I encourage you to please complete the easy online application at www.feea.org/disaster.
Here is some information about how the NTEU Disaster Fund can help (and already has) any FDA employee:
- Grants are for $1,000.
- Assistance is available for those with major damage to their primary residence and those with no flood insurance or high deductibles.
- The money can be used for rebuilding materials including walls, floors, ceilings, roofs, and appliances.
- It does not cover furniture except beds.
Concurrently, NTEU reached out to the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) asking for OPM to grant agencies the authority to establish Emergency Leave Transfer Programs (ELTPs). Once OPM granted the authority, NTEU moved quickly to work with agencies, including HHS, to establish the programs and get them up and running. Once again, I was not surprised to see that FDA and other federal employees were generous in donating hours of leave to help their coworkers.
OPM recently advised agencies to relax some of the restrictions on these programs to better aid those employees who desperately need the time. That guidance is available online. Be sure, however, to check with the human resources office for details on the FDA program.
NTEU worked directly with agencies to ensure that impacted employees are accounted for and safe, and to make sure they receive administrative leave for time when their offices were closed or they were unable to telework.
After each new disaster, NTEU reached out to the chapter presidents in the impacted areas to check in, see how our members were doing, and to see if any help from NTEU was needed. I reported on how our employees and members have been faring. Every chapter president has been quick to reach out to try and account for all their members while working with their respective agencies on leave issues and assistance.
A couple of the areas facing very tough recovery efforts include Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. NTEU represents IRS, CBP, and HHS/FDA employees in Puerto Rico and CBP employees in the Virgin Islands. Safe drinking water and adequate fuel are among the top challenges facing our members in these two areas.
Given national security issues and the need to reopen ports to move relief supplies and assistance into those areas, CBP stepped in and provided its employees with basic supplies including water, food, and generators. The agency did the same for some of its employees in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. NTEU has been supportive of CBP’s willingness to consider temporary and permanent reassignments for those employees who suffered serious property damage in one or more of the hurricanes.
In communications with Chapter 193 (IRS Puerto Rico) the chapter president, Lorna Nadal Martinez, suggested that it would be helpful if NTEU could assist by providing safe drinking water for chapter members. To assist, NTEU is sending 15 pallets of bottled water (28,000 bottles of water) to be distributed by Chapter 193. The first shipment of those pallets is already on the way. In addition, Tony is going to Puerto Rico in early December to talk in person with impacted members.
In September, Tony also sent letters to every Senator and Representative imploring them to prioritize disaster assistance funding for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. In addition, Tony urged them to exercise leadership to ensure that our American citizens receive the full resources and support of the U.S. Government for both immediate humanitarian emergency needs and longer-term rebuilding measures.
The NTEU National Office is certainly not the only part of our union to jump in and lend a hand. Not by a long shot. From the first hurricane, chapters across the country have rallied together and sent supplies directly to their chapter colleagues. Chapters have sent food, water, basic supplies, and much more. Some chapters are sending water filtration devices to the islands to help with the ongoing water issues.
This is one more example of why I am so proud to be an NTEU member and representative. When people are hurting and need a hand, NTEU steps up. There is never a question about whether we should help. It is always about how we can help.
Our members in impacted areas still face a very tough and long road to recovery, and I know that we will stand with them until they get there. Thank you for all that you have done. I know that our thoughts remain with everyone who has been impacted by the hurricanes and the wildfires.