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Tampa residents say hurricane preparations come at a price

Empty shelves Hurricane Ian Publix
Gabriella Paul
WUSF Public Media
Empty shelves in a Publix supermarket in Tampa, days after Hurricane Ian barreled through Florida.

Added expenses ahead of Hurricane Ian are making it harder for Tampa residents to afford monthly bills.

For people living paycheck to paycheck, preparing for a storm like Hurricane Ian comes at a price.

Earlishia Oates, a lifelong East Tampa resident and community leader, explained that many households made tough decisions about reallocating money from other monthly expenses to afford hurricane supplies.

"Now that you've spent your money on hurricane supplies, it's nerve-racking," she said. "We may have survived the hurricane, but we'll be living in our car tomorrow."

Earlishia Oates
Screenshot of Zoom conversation
Earlishia Oates says the costs of preparing to shelter in place has left a hole in some Tampa residents' monthly budgets.

Oates said she received more than a dozen calls on Monday from neighbors who were panicked about affording September bills that were due on the first.

As a leader and activist in her community, she often helps connect residents with need-based resources.

"A lot of them are saying they spent their rent money on supplies for the hurricane," Oates said.

While there's been a collective sigh of relief since Hurricane Ian largely spared the immediate Tampa Bay region, Oates said a new panic has set in: "What's next?"

Ernest Coney, CEO of Corporation to Develop Communities of Tampa, said demand for assistance has seen an uptick over the past seven days.

The added costs of hurricane preparations — which can total up to an entire paycheck — paired with lost work days and food or medicine that's spoiled without power has left some residents upside down on their monthly expenses.

Oates said she spent a total of $400 on supplies to shelter-in-place with her four children. Her hurricane kit included canned food, bottled water, flashlights, life-jackets and an early refill of her son's epilepsy medication, which wasn't covered by insurance.

After the storm, Oates donated most of the supplies to an elderly neighbor after discovering her hurricane kit was comprised of a single flashlight.

Oates hopes her neighbors won't have to choose between affording rent and a hurricane safety kit in the future. That's why this week she has called on elected officials to allocate new grant funding to help with the cost of hurricane preparation.

Individuals in 17 Florida counties, including Hillsborough County, can now apply for disaster-related financial assistance. On Monday, the state also eased requirements for jobless claims benefits in these counties.

Gabriella Paul covers the stories of people living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region for WUSF. She's also a Report for America corps member. Here’s how you can share your story with her.

I tell stories about living paycheck to paycheck for public radio at WUSF News. I’m also a corps member of Report For America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms.
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