ORLANDO, Fla. -- In less than one year since Hurricane Wilma struck South Florida, more than $1 billion in federal Public Assistance funds has been dispersed throughout communities affected by that storm, officials from the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Florida's State Emergency Response Team (SERT) announced today.
"The typical life-cycle of any disaster involves a rapid response to meet basic needs, followed by long-term, large-scale federal Public Assistance funding to help city and county governments get back on their feet," said Scott R. Morris, FEMA's Florida long-term recovery director. "We resolved to deliver these vital funds to Florida communities quicker and more efficiently than ever before - and we succeeded. We have made Wilma Public Assistance funds available three times faster than those from the 2004 hurricane season - and with half the staff carrying the workload."
Through the Public Assistance program, FEMA grants state and local governments and eligible private nonprofit agencies funds to repair or replace damaged roads and bridges, water-control facilities, public buildings and their contents, publicly owned utilities, and parks and recreation areas. It also includes funds for emergency services and eligible debris-removal costs related to the disaster. For the 2005 hurricane season, FEMA reimbursed these applicants 75 percent of the eligible cost. The state and the applicant covered the rest of the cost.
"Public Assistance endeavors are the kinds of projects that affect the day-to-day activities, services and resources provided to Floridians by local governments," said Craig Fugate, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. "We applaud the ongoing commitment by the state team and our federal partners to help Florida communities recover."
All levels of government have a role in getting the Public Assistance grant money to applicants. For every applicant, a team with one FEMA member and one state member shepherds the applicant's project or projects through the process. The state is the grants manager, and local officials take an active role in the process by providing documentation and requesting approved grant money from the state. The state is responsible, along with the applicant, for monitoring the finalization of every large (more than $55,000) project; then, FEMA conducts an audit of the project's documentation.
Throughout the area affected by Wilma, more than 8,500 Public Assistance projects totaling $1.01 billion have been funded so far, representing more than 90 percent of the estimated federal share of the Wilma recovery effort. Among many other projects, federal Public Assistance funds made available for Wilma recovery helped to clear debris from public rights-of-way; repair thousands of damaged traffic signals; rebuild battered infrastructure such as bridges; replace public vehicles; and repair and replace damaged roofs, siding, light fixtures and other components of public buildings.
For recovery from all 2005 storms that impacted Florida - hurricanes Dennis, Wilma, Katrina and Rita - more than $1.3 billion in Public Assistance funds, covering more than 11,800 projects, has reached city, county and state applicants.
Innovations Speed Recovery Process
Recovery officials credited improvements made to the Florida Public Assistance process for the swift pace of recovery. In May 2005, FEMA opened a Long-Term Recovery Office (LTRO) in Orlando in response to Florida's historic 2004 hurricane season. Its primary purpose was to take the lessons learned following the 2004 season - the greatest mobilization of response and recovery resources in FEMA's history before Hurricane Katrina - and drive change in hurricane-recovery efforts. It sought to streamline the massive push to meet the needs of Florida communities after the 2004 storms ...