FEMA orders 30 million meals for hungry Puerto Ricans, only 50,000 are delivered
Puerto Rico is still suffering from widespread hunger and lack of electricity after the devastation of Hurricane Maria. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was tasked with providing food to millions of Puerto Ricans who desperately needed food. It was estimated over 30 million meals were needed to adequately feed these people.
To accomplish this monumental task, FEMA awarded the contract to Tiffany Brown, an Atlanta entrepreneur with absolutely no experience in large-scale disaster relief. Looking into her past government contracts, you would find five were cancelled for never delivering on the terms. This particular contract awarded to her by FEMA totaled $156 million, which is utterly baffling, considering she is the sole owner and employee of her company, Tribute Contracting LLC.
Brown set out to find help in filling this immense contract, so she hired a small time wedding caterer out of Atlanta with a small staff of 11 employees. The meals they packaged contained freeze-dried chicken and rice, and a vegetable soup, then shipped the food overseas using a nonprofit in located in Texas.
At the time when a little less than half of the meals were due, FEMA inspectors realized several problems. Only 50,000 of them had been delivered, severely below the required mark. The other problem was the meals were not “self-heating meals” as the pouches used to heat them were shipped separately, with many not even arriving.
Carolyn Ward, the FEMA contracting officer handling the agreement contacted Brown saying, “Do not ship another meal. Your contract is terminated.” FEMA insists that no one missed a meal due to the failed contract with Brown, as they relied on other food suppliers, according to William Booher, a FEMA spokesman. Booher went on to say, “At the time of the contract termination there were ample commodity supplies in the pipeline, and distribution was not affected.”
Brown has disputed the termination of her contract, saying it was unfairly terminated by FEMA on the grounds they did not specify the meals and heaters had to be together. She does not believe they cancelled the contract due to the late delivery. Brown is seeking a settlement of $70 million, as the subcontractor she used has threatened to sue her for breach of contract.
Puerto Rico is still experiencing a severe shortage of food. Hurricane Maria destroyed key ports that were crucial for imports that allowed for a steady stream of food and supplies. In addition, electricity was out for the majority of the island, making it impossible for supermarkets to keep their perishable products fresh.
This is just one of several contracts awarded in the early days of the hurricane aftermath that are testament to whether FEMA was adequately prepared to handle a disaster of this multitude. In November, a contract was awarded to a newly created company in Florida to provide $30 million worth of tarps and plastic sheeting for repairs. The company, Bronze Star LLC, never delivered on those needed supplies, and FEMA eventually cancelled the contract without payment, but the entire ordeal took nearly four weeks. Meanwhile, the people of Puerto Rico remain in dire need of these supplies.