KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The clock is ticking for emergency managers to get their requests in for federal aid, state and federal disaster recovery officials told local government representatives at applicant briefings held in two Nebraska cities last week.
The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) hosted meetings Tuesday, Sept. 11, at the Imperial Inn in Imperial and Wednesday, Sept. 12, at the Keith County Emergency Operations Center in Ogallala. The briefings were the first step for public agencies following an Aug. 29 Major Presidential Disaster Declaration authorizing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to make available Public Assistance funding to applicants such as state and local governments, Native American tribes and private nonprofit organizations providing critical services such as power and water.
The declaration applies to six Nebraska counties - Arthur, Dundy, Chase, Keith, McPherson and Perkins - that suffered damage to roads and other public facilities as a result of severe storms June 11-16. Two previous declarations this summer made 19 counties eligible for FEMA Public Assistance on June 6 and 15 counties eligible for Public Assistance on July 24. Custer, Loup and Wheeler counties were declared for federal aid in both instances for storms May 4-19 and ?May 28-June 2.
The applicant briefings provide an overview of available assistance and eligibility requirements for obtaining federal assistance under the declared event. FEMA pays up to 75 percent of a project to repair damage to pre-disaster condition. All that is required to start the process is for applicants to submit a one-page RPA (Request for Public Assistance) that opens the door for FEMA personnel to meet with applicants in a "kickoff" meeting to formulate projects, which must be for disaster-related damage.
Projects can be geared to an agency's best advantage. For example, a road damaged in three sections may be handled as three separate projects or as one project. As many eligible projects as are needed to complete repairs may be submitted, and federal dollars are available to pay for all approved projects. The work has to be performed in a timely manner; extensions of time are possible for legitimate reasons such as weather.
An amount equal to 15 percent of the federal dollars spent for disaster recovery is available to the state to fund projects reducing the potential for future damage in disasters. This "hazard mitigation," as it is termed, adopts the idea that spending a little more up front will save taxpayer dollars down the road in not having to pay for disaster repairs over and over again.
The cost-benefit must be greater than 1 but many projects have had a quadruple cost savings, according to studies the National Institute of Building Sciences conducted for FEMA in 2000.
Brian Podwinski, public assistance officer from NEMA, and Lori Moore, hazard mitigation officer for NEMA, both from Lincoln, presented an overview of the two programs. FEMA's Chuck New, a Public Assistance program chief, answered questions from the FEMA side and discussed a new pilot program Congress authorized to help get the money out quickly.
The pilot program allows grants to be made on the basis of estimates rather than actual costs. FEMA will balance underestimated projects against overestimated ones to equalize benefit to an agency.
Local agencies have many options to make up the 25 percent share. Community Development Block Grant funds can be used because they "lose their federal identity" when the reach the state. Private contributions and volunteer labor can also be calculated to make up the local share, officials said.
Local agencies receive their money from the state after legal and documentation requirements are met. The process of formulating and approving projects can ...