Disaster Response Money Getting Scarce

Local counties and townships are going to have to wait a while to be reimbursed for road and bridge work by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

FEMA is prioritizing its limited Disaster Relief Fund money for what’s called “immediate needs funding,” according to information from the agency. That means the remaining money will be used primarily for life-saving activities, emergency protective measures, removing disaster debris and individual assistance such as housing for disaster victims, said Phil Wernisch, a South Dakota-based external affairs officer for the agency.

As a result, longer-term projects, such as road repairs, won’t be paid off until Congress appropriates more money for the fund, Wernisch said. Those projects, though, still qualify for FEMA funding.

 Wernisch said many South Dakota projects that were eligible for FEMA aid last year also had to wait for a similar congressional appropriation. Seven natural disasters were declared in the state in 2010.

FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund is the pot of money the agency taps to respond to disasters. FEMA officials have said in recent days that it has only about $800 million remaining.

A variety of disasters — nationwide flooding, tornadoes in the South and Hurricane Irene among them — have strained FEMA’s emergency funds this year.

Wernisch said local counties and townships can still repair roads and bridges damaged by spring flooding. And FEMA will continue to process those reports. Only reimbursement will have to wait.

Local effect

Scott Meints, Brown County Emergency Management director, said that some townships in the county have already received money from FEMA to help upgrade infrastructure. Most, though, have not, he said. Nor has the county.

FEMA officials, who had been in Brown County for a couple of months looking at flood damage, left Aug. 30, Meints said.

Preliminarily, Brown County expects roughly $750,000 to help repair damaged roads and bridges, Meints said. But FEMA still has to sign off on some of the jobs, he said. That total does not include FEMA money going to townships and communities in the region.

State and federal aid to South Dakota to help pay for flood damage has topped $9 million this year, according to the state Department of Public Safety. Of that, about $1.8 million is for damage done to private homes and businesses and emergency housing costs. That FEMA money is available to residents in Charles Mix, Hughes, Stanley and Union counties whose property sustained considerable flood damage.

Cost coverage

So-called public funding, which pays for infrastructure repairs, covers 75 percent of project costs. The state pays another 10 percent, leaving 15 percent for local governments.

Members of Congress have discussed appropriating more money for the Disaster Relief Fund in the past week, but the political parties are at an impasse for now. Most Republicans want any new money to be offset by spending cuts elsewhere, and Democrats generally balk at that notion.

Read more posts in News Articles • Tagged as , • Permalink