I hope all of you who rushed to criticize FEMA and President Bush's handpicked manager, Michael Brown, feel ashamed of yourselves now that we see they really were on the job and spending your tax dollars like drunken sailors. ******************************************** Investigation shows FEMA spent millions on puppet shows, bingo, yoga By Sally Kestin South Florida Sun-Sentinel Posted October 8 2006 At the Pinitos Learning Center in Boca Raton, disaster workers dressed as "Windy Biggie" and "Sunny" teach 30 preschoolers a song about how the wind is good, even during a hurricane. "Windy Biggie is our friend. "Windy Biggie is strong wind. "She turns, turns, turns, turns around. "She's knocking things to the ground." This is FEMA tax money at work. It's also paying for Hurricane Bingo, puppet shows, "salsa for seniors," and yoga on the beach. Last year, the Federal Emergency Management Agency awarded Florida $22.6 million for "crisis counseling" for victims of hurricanes Wilma and Katrina. Florida's program, called Project H.O.P.E. -- Helping Our People in Emergencies -- is still in operation with about 450 workers across the state who spend much of their time leading games and performing shows for groups of residents -- regardless of whether they're in crisis or even experienced the storms, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel has found. The program, funded by FEMA but run by Florida's Department of Children & Families, is supposed to identify victims and help them recover from the "psychological aftermath" of the storms by providing emotional support and referrals for food, clothes and services. But Project H.O.P.E. officials say they've had trouble locating victims because FEMA refuses to provide names or addresses of those who have sought disaster aid, citing confidentiality. Workers have searched for Wilma victims by driving around and looking for blue tarps on roofs. The Katrina team, whose mission is to help Gulf Coast evacuees who have moved to Florida, have scoured hotels and festivals, sometimes finding only one or two "survivors" a week. The job is stressful, Project H.O.P.E. officials say. Counselors regularly attend "stress management" sessions that have included collecting shells on the beach, "silly string and art therapy," and "the toilet paper game." "This fun game has the team throwing toilet paper in an orderly fashion while additional rolls are constantly introduced," says a Project H.O.P.E. report. In response to inquiries from the Sun-Sentinel, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., sent an e-mail to FEMA on Thursday, asking for a review of the program. "The way some of the money reportedly is being used raises some red flags with me," said Nelson, who has criticized FEMA in the past for wasteful spending. Doris O'Neal was a Project H.O.P.E. Wilma counselor in Palm Beach County from December through July, when she left because of illness. "I think it's a waste of taxpayers' money," she told the Sun-Sentinel. "I mean, puppet shows? What is that doing? I felt guilty a lot of days going to work and earning a paycheck." Project H.O.P.E. officials say they've helped thousands of Floridians suffering traumatic effects from the storms. "Project H.O.P.E. gave them hope and guidance when they were living in despair," said Jennifer Beckman, project manager in Palm Beach County. "We are very proud of the services we offer and deliver." FEMA relies on the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration, or SAMHSA, a division of another federal agency, to evaluate the crisis counseling programs.