Time Extension for Request for Public Assistance Submittal
|Applicant||Milford Redevelopment and Housing Partnership|
Citation: FEMA-4087-DR-CT, Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, Time Extension for Request for Public Assistance Submittal
Cross-Reference: Request for Public Assistance; Time Extensions/Limitations
Summary: On October 30, 2012, the President issued a major disaster declaration for the State of Connecticut as a result of Hurricane Sandy. Among the counties designated under the declaration was New Haven County, where the Milford Redevelopment and Housing Partnership (Applicant) is located. In a letter dated November 14, 2012, the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (Grantee) requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) extend the deadline for filing Requests for Public Assistance (RPAs) until December 29, 2012. The FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) granted that request and a subsequent one, ultimately extending the deadline to January 2, 2013. In granting those extensions, the FCO explained that the Grantee bears the responsibility to inform applicants about the availability of Public Assistance and noted that he would not grant any additional extension requests based on an assertion that an applicant was not informed of the availability of the Public Assistance or applicable deadlines. The Grantee nevertheless requested an additional extension on behalf of the Applicant, which had submitted its RPA to the Grantee on January 14, 2013. The FCO denied the request, explaining that neither the Grantee nor the Applicant had provided justification demonstrating that extenuating circumstances beyond either’s control prevented the timely submission of the RPA. The Grantee submitted a first appeal, arguing that the Applicant was unable to timely submit its RPA because, among other things, the Applicant did not obtain guidance on Public Assistance in two phone calls it made to a FEMA Individual Assistance hotline; the hurricane severely impacted the Applicant’s jurisdiction; and FEMA and the Grantee had established multiple application deadline dates for disaster assistance programs. The FEMA Region I Acting Regional Administrator denied the first appeal, concluding that the Grantee bears responsibility for informing applicants about the Public Assistance program and that no circumstances beyond the Grantee or Applicant’s control prevented a timely submission of the RPA. The Grantee submitted a second appeal, reiterating similar arguments set forth in the first appeal.
Issue: Has the Grantee provided justification demonstrating that extenuating circumstances beyond the Grantee or Applicant’s control prevented timely submission of the Applicant’s RPA, the deadline for which was extended twice?
Rationale: 44 C.F.R. § 206.202, Application procedures.
December 4, 2013
William J. Hackett
Division of Emergency Management and Homeland Security
25 Sigourney Street, 6th Floor
Hartford, Connecticut 06106
Re: Second Appeal—Milford Redevelopment and Housing Partnership, Time Extension for Request for Public Assistance Submittal, FEMA-4087-DR-CT
Dear Mr. Hackett:
This is in response to your office’s letter dated June 27, 2013, appealing the Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denial of your request, made on behalf of the Milford Redevelopment and Housing Partnership (Applicant) to extend the deadline to file a Request for Public Assistance. As explained in the enclosed analysis, neither the Applicant nor your office has demonstrated extenuating circumstances necessary to justify the Applicant’s late RPA. Therefore, I am denying the appeal.
Please inform the Applicant of my decision. This determination constitutes the final decision on this matter pursuant to 44 C.F.R. § 206.206, Appeals.
cc: Paul Ford
Acting Regional Administrator
FEMA Region I
On October 30, 2012, the President issued a major disaster declaration (FEMA-4087-DR-CT) for the State of Connecticut as a result of Hurricane Sandy. The declaration initially authorized Public Assistance Category A and Category B in four counties and two tribal nations. Among the declared counties was New Haven County, where the Milford Redevelopment and Housing Partnership (Applicant) is located.
In a letter dated November 14, 2012, the Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection (Grantee) requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) extend the deadline for filing Requests for Public Assistance (RPAs) under FEMA-4087-DR-CT. In a response letter dated November 16, 2012, the Federal Coordinating Officer (FCO) granted the request, extending the RPA deadline until December 29, 2012.
In an e-mail message dated December 12, 2012, the Grantee requested another extension of the RPA deadline, until January 2, 2013. The FCO granted the request in an e-mail message dated December 13, 2012. The Grantee, therefore, was required to submit all applicant RPAs it received under FEMA-4087-DR-CT to FEMA by January 2, 2013.
In a letter dated January 15, 2013, the Grantee requested a further extension of the RPA deadline, specifically on behalf of the Applicant, which had submitted its completed RPA to the Grantee on January 14, 2013. Along with that submission, the Applicant included a letter to the Grantee setting forth reasons why it did not submit the RPA on time. The Applicant asserted that, in previous major disasters, its personnel attended applicant briefings after receiving invitations to them from disaster recovery officials and worked directly with FEMA personnel to complete required forms. It stated that its personnel checked the Hurricane Sandy recovery web site for information on how and when to file its RPA but could not find any such guidance. It also stated that when its personnel called a FEMA disaster assistance registration hotline on two consecutive days in November 2012, the FEMA personnel on the line could not provide any information about applying for Public Assistance. The Applicant also noted that it had not been directly contacted and informed about the procedures for filing its RPA. In its letter to FEMA, the Grantee highlighted the hotline calls mentioned by the Applicant, arguing that, when contacted, FEMA staff should be able to provide guidance on filing an RPA. The Grantee also asserted that, given the JFO’s staffing levels, accepting the late RPA would not have been an administrative burden.
In a letter dated January 18, 2013, the FCO denied the additional extension request, concluding that there were no extenuating circumstances beyond the Applicant’s control causing it to submit a late RPA. The FCO noted that the Applicant was experienced with the Public Assistance program, had previously filed RPAs successfully, and did not appear to have sought assistance from local, state, or FEMA (besides the calls to the registration hotline) until January 7, 2013, after the second extended deadline. The FCO also noted the two RPA deadline extensions he had granted for all applicants under FEMA-4087-DR-CT.
The Grantee submitted a first appeal in a letter dated March 18, 2013, arguing that extenuating circumstances beyond the control of the Applicant contributed to the Applicant’s late RPA filing. The circumstances the Grantee highlighted included (1) the Applicant’s inability to obtain guidance on Public Assistance in two phone calls to the FEMA disaster assistance registration hotline; (2) the severe impact of the major disaster on the Applicant’s jurisdiction, which required administrative requirements to be given a lower priority; (3) the lack of direct outreach or guidance from FEMA representatives to the Applicant on the Public Assistance program; (4) the multiple application deadline dates and extension dates published by FEMA and the Grantee for various disaster assistance programs, which could have confused applicants; and (5) the Applicant’s contacting the Grantee for guidance only five days after the final, extended deadline, and its submission of its RPA 12 days after the deadline.
The FEMA Region I Acting Regional Administrator denied the first appeal in a letter dated April 13, 2013. In his decision, the Acting Regional Administrator noted that responsibility to conduct outreach to applicants regarding Public Assistance lies with grantees, not FEMA, and that the FCO expressly stressed this point to the Grantee in this case. As the decision explained, the FCO explicitly stated that any additional RPA extension requests based on an assertion that an applicant was not informed of the RPA deadline or the availability of Public Assistance would not be approved. Moreover, it noted that the Applicant had submitted timely, successful RPAs and received assistance under two previous major disasters. The decision also rejected the assertion that Hurricane Sandy’s severe impacts prevented the Applicant from submitting a timely RPA, noting that, with the FCO’s two extensions, the Applicant and the Grantee had more than two months to submit the RPA.
The Grantee submitted a second appeal in a letter dated June 27, 2013. The Grantee acknowledges that it, and not FEMA, has responsibility to notify Public Assistance applicants of program availability, and it asserted that it engaged in a “robust effort to get the word out.” The Grantee asserts that when potential Individual Assistance or Small Business Administration applicants contacted its Public Assistance personnel, it referred those applicants to appropriate FEMA officials. In a similar vein, the Grantee argues, when the Applicant called the disaster assistance registration hotline—which serves Individual Assistance applicants—FEMA personnel should have referred the Applicant to the Grantee’s Public Assistance staff.
The Grantee also acknowledges that the Applicant previously obtained assistance under the Public Assistance program, but argues that prior exposure to the application process does not make it a “subject matter expert.” The Grantee argues that the Applicant did not understand the application process in this major disaster, as evidenced by its calling the general disaster assistance hotline for guidance.
Finally, the Grantee asserts that it and FEMA issued a number of press releases publishing changing deadlines for various disaster assistance programs, creating the possibility that untrained applicants could misunderstand or confuse applicable deadlines.
Under Public Assistance program regulations, grantees serve as the grant administrator for all funds provided under the program. A grantee’s responsibilities include “[e]nsuring that all potential applicants are aware of available public assistance” and “submitting documents necessary for the award of grants. The grantee must submit an applicant’s completed Request for Public Assistance form to the FEMA regional administrator within 30 days after designation of the area where the damage occurred. The regional administrator may extend that deadline when the grantee requests an extension and provides justification for it in writing. The justification “must be based on extenuating circumstances beyond the grantee’s or subgrantee’s control.”
The FCO agreed that such circumstances did exist when the Grantee first requested an extension for all applicants, given the extent of the damage to the state’s coastal communities caused by Hurricane Sandy and the Grantee’s work to obtain authorization for Public Assistance in additional counties. In granting the first extension, the FCO reminded the Grantee of the “very clear responsibilities for grantees under the Public Assistance [p]rogram,” including the responsibility to “ensure that all potential applicants are aware of available Public Assistance.” The FCO recommended that the Grantee engage in “robust” outreach efforts to potential applicants and, given the Grantee’s responsibility for outreach, explained that he would not approve future RPA deadline extensions “based in any part on an assertion that a state agency, local government, or private non-profit applicant was not informed of the deadline or the availability of Public Assistance.” Despite this admonition, the Grantee requested a further extension to January 2, 2013, to avoid the RPA deadline falling on a holiday weekend. The FCO granted the second request, but explained that “this will be the last blanket extension for the RPA deadline.”
In light of the Grantee’s responsibility to inform the Applicant about the availability of Public Assistance and the FCO’s clear notice that further extension requests would not be granted, an additional extension allowing consideration of the Applicant’s late-filed RPA is not warranted. Neither the Grantee nor the Applicant has provided sufficient evidence to demonstrate extenuating circumstances beyond either’s control prevented submission of the Applicant’s RPA within the twice-extended deadline.
The Grantee acknowledges that it bore the responsibility to ensure that the Applicant was aware of the availability of Public Assistance and the process for requesting assistance. With the two RPA deadline extensions granted by the FCO, the Grantee had a total of 64 days to carry out this responsibility.
None of the reasons cited for failing to submit an RPA in a timely manner are indicative of extenuating circumstances beyond the control of the Grantee or the Applicant. As discussed, the FCO granted the first extension request after recognizing that Hurricane Sandy’s immediate impacts prevented the Grantee from conducting applicant briefings, collecting applicant RPAs, and submitting them to FEMA within the initial 30-day RPA deadline. The Grantee had the ability to carry out those tasks within the new, extended deadlines.
The Grantee and Applicant have not demonstrated extenuating circumstances beyond either’s control that prevented submission of a timely RPA. Therefore, accepting the Applicant’s untimely RPA is not warranted.