After the devastation caused by hurricane Maria, the Federal Emergency Management Agency knew that people needed food. FEMA announced at the start that they needed to get 30 million meals down to Puerto Rico to help, and to do so they awarded contracts to companies in the United States.
FEMA awarded Tribute Contracting LLC with a $156 million to help put together food to ship out to those in need. The owner of Contracting LLC is Tiffany Brown, who is from Atlanta and is a entrepreneur, has absolutely no history with large-scale relief like they were doing for Puerto Rico.
Tribute Contracting LLC hired a wedding catering company with 11 staff members to help pack and freeze over 30 million meals for those in need from the storm. Mrs. Brown also found a nonprofit in Texas that had shipped food aid overseas and domestically, including to a Houston food bank after Hurricane Harvey.
Four months after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a picture is emerging of the contracts awarded in the earliest days of the crisis. And examples like the Tribute contract are causing lawmakers to raise questions about FEMA’s handling of the disaster and whether the agency was adequately prepared to respond.
When the time came for 18.5 million meals to be due, Tribute had delivered only 50,000. FEMA inspectors discovered a problem: The food had been packaged separately from the pouches used to heat them. FEMA requires that all food is self-heating since many on the island are still without power.
In an email that New York Times was able to get a hold of from the FEMA contracting officer, Carolyn Ward, told Tiffany Brown of Tribute that “their contract has been terminated”, and that “they should stop sending food immediately”, ending with saying “this is a logistical nightmare”.
Today Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, asked Representative Trey Gowdy to subpoena FEMA for all documents relating to the agreement.
Lawmakers are fearing that the agency doesn’t have a list of contractors on standby in advance of natural disasters, leading it to scramble to award multimillion-dollar agreements in the middle of a crisis without knowing the contractors history.
The Associated Press found back in November, that after Hurricane Maria hit, FEMA awarded more than $30 million in contracts for emergency tarps and plastic sheeting to a company that never delivered the needed supplies.
The DHS has handed out more than $1 billion in contracts related to Hurricane Maria relief, which made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.
On Oct. 3 of 2017, FEMA awarded one of its largest food contracts to Tribute. For $5.10 each, the company agreed to provide 30 million ready-to-eat meals by Oct. 23.
An investigation by the office’s inspector general found that Tribute “altered and submitted a false shipping document and subcontracted the predominant production function on two contracts without proper authorization,” according to a 2015 report submitted to Congress.
The office has awarded Tribute 14 contracts totaling more than $80,000 from 2014-15 alone, and the company “routinely delivered late,” the report said.
Featured photo via DHS