‘We need it now’

Officials stress need for FEMA, state reimbursement of Irma costs

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Waiting for money from the state and federal government for costs incurred during Hurricane Irma is “like playing cards with a 5-year-old.”

Those were the words of Cynthia Hall, assistant county attorney, during a heated Monday meeting with representatives from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state Division of Emergency Management at the Marathon Government Center.

“We don’t know what the rules are and they seem to be changing all the time. It’s tough to know what information to give you to fix the problem,” Hall told Wesley Maul, director for the state Division of Emergency Management.

Hall and other officials were stressing the need for reimbursement as they struggle with the possibility of a busy upcoming hurricane season, starting June 1.

Cities and towns countywide have depleted reserves, are taking out lines of credit and facing the possibility of tax hikes as they await a combined $150 million in reimbursements.

The process goes like this: What’s called a “project worksheet” is submitted to FEMA, which then labels it “obligated,” or approved. Then the reimbursement money is sent to the state to be disbursed, but that has not happened.

Maul said the process can take years.

“There are widespread failures and we’re trying to figure out how to reduce the threat to our communities from federal de-obligation,” he said.

De-obligation is when money is given to a municipality and then owed back to FEMA if spent incorrectly.

“What I see is that the system is failing us,” said Marathon City Manager Chuck Lindsey.

Maul said the state department is doing everything it can to “shake the cobwebs off” and streamline the process to get Monroe County municipalities the money they so badly need.

Statewide, Maul said, the department expects about 10,000 Irma project worksheets to be submitted.

Five hundred have already been submitted in Monroe County, he said. Ten of those local projects have made it to the review phase.

The other 490 projects are still either under project development at a local phase or have been submitted to FEMA.

Zero have been reimbursed.

“So now, as we move into the next hurricane season with depleted reserves, we’re at tremendous risk,” Lindsey said. “We need the reimbursement to come now.”

— Katie Atkins

 

Some more numbers:

• 310

Statewide, the number of projects under FEMA review.

• 150

Statewide, the number of projects “obligated,” or approved by FEMA.

• 500

Countywide (Monroe County including municipalities), the number of projects under FEMA review.

• 10

Countywide (Monroe County including municipalities),, the number of projects “obligated,” or approved by FEMA.

• $0

How much has been reimbursed for these local projects.

• 10,000

The number of expected project worksheets from Irma damage statewide.

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