Democratic presidential candidate and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg speaks Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2019, as organizer Alicia Garza, right, looks on during an event with Supermajority in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

Buttigieg unveils community-focused disaster relief plan

September 17, 2019 - 3:52 pm

GALIVANTS FERRY, S.C. (AP) — Democratic presidential hopeful Pete Buttigieg unveiled his community-focused approach to disaster relief Tuesday in a South Carolina community hit hard by Hurricane Florence last year, pledging to reinforce the response to weather events he says are exacerbated by climate change.

During a speech on Tuesday, the South Bend, Indiana, mayor discussed his plans for a disaster commission to help coordinate efforts between federal agencies and the communities affected by disasters. In his plan, Buttigieg says the commission would be tasked with streamlining data collection, in part to lessen burdens on those affected by disasters.

Buttigieg, whose campaign said he is the first of the Democratic hopefuls to release a stand-alone disaster relief plan, said the commission also would aim to make it easier for survivors to access funding to help them rebuild, including a permanent block grant program within the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Buttigieg unveiled his ideas in Conway, a northeastern South Carolina city about 15 miles (24 kilometers) inland beset by several devastating storms. The city of 23,000 residents sustained record flooding that followed Hurricane Florence. That storm damaged more than 1,500 homes, caused $24 billion in damage and led to 53 deaths in the state.

In 2016, Conway was wracked by Hurricane Matthew, which caused flooding surpassed only by Florence. A 1,000-year flood devastated many other parts of South Carolina.

Drawing on his own experience with historic flooding in South Bend, Buttigieg said in his plan that he has "seen the frustration that sets in for local communities when federal disaster response falls short, or takes too long, or is delivered in a confusing fashion that leaves local authorities, nonprofits, and state officials scrambling to cover for gaps and delays."

The problems, Buttigieg wrote in his plan, are made worse by climate change, with catastrophic weather "increasing in frequency, intensity, and impact." Building on his $1.1 trillion climate change proposals , Buttigieg said his administration would explore public-private partnerships for disaster response, like using drone technology to survey storm damage.

Buttigieg also proposed increasing the number of Federal Emergency Management Agency-qualified disaster workers. Other proposals include catastrophic weather insurance and protections for FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund. Some of the $271 million being moved by the Department of Homeland Security to increase the number of beds for detained immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border comes from FEMA's response funding.

Later Tuesday, Buttigieg traveled to Columbia for a roundtable with Supermajority, a women's advocacy group headed by former Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards that stopped in South Carolina as part of a cross-country bus tour. Organizers said subsequent stops feature events with other 2020 Democratic candidates , including former Obama Housing Secretary Julián Castro and Sens. Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.

"Anyone elected president is going to be better if they've actually listened to women," Richards told The Associated Press on Tuesday, ahead of Buttigieg's remarks.

Buttigieg fielded questions from a room of several dozen women, pledging his commitment to listening to women's concerns, as well as creating and enforcing policies on issues including pay equity and reproductive and LGBTQ rights.

"I'm here because women are ... more than half of this country," Buttigieg said.

On Monday, Buttigieg participated in the Galivants Ferry Stump , which organizers say is the oldest traditional campaign speaking event in the country. He was also scheduled to hold a town hall meeting at the University of South Carolina before traveling to Kentucky.

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Meg Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

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