The government will spend $1.1 million to notify 2.2 million disaster aid recipients that they will be releasing their addresses to the media but are using a legal loophole to further delay giving those addresses to three Florida newspapers and their readers.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, said Monday that it would release the information on disaster aid recipients from 1998 to 2004 to the South Florida Sun-Sentinel as instructed by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
But the agency said it would wait on another court ruling before releasing it to The News-Press, Pensacola News-Journal and Florida Today, the Gannett newspapers and lead plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking more information about how they distributed more $1.2 billion in disaster aid during the 2004 hurricane season.
The agency also said opening the records is in response to the lawsuit, does not signal a change in policy, and will only apply to the disasters covered in the lawsuit not subsequent disasters.
Because the Gannett and Tribune cases were separately filed, FEMA said that it would wait for the Middle District Court to issue a new order before releasing the information to The News-Press. They must begin to release the information to the Sun-Sentinel on Aug. 28 and roll it out over the next 90 days.
FEMA's tactics provoked the ire of First Amendment advocate Lucy Dalglish, executive director of The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
"It's ludicrous," said Dalglish of FEMA's decisions to delay the release, notify the recipients, and especially, not to see this as a precedent.
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