Not a cent of federal aid for Hurricane Irma damage reaches county
Written by Sara Marino on February 20, 2018
Federal funds to help rebuild after last summer’s ravage of Hurricane Irma are still in the process of being allocated, with no deadline in sight. Not a penny has yet reached Miami-Dade, with 10 to 12 federal representatives still working here full time to help get funds flowing.
The county and FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, remain in stage one of a four-step plan that will send the county the agency’s financial help – now estimated at almost half a billion dollars – to mitigate Irma’s economic impact.
“It’s at a stage where they’re gathering information still and FEMA is meeting with all of the departments that have provided estimates,” said Blanca Padron, county deputy finance director. “They are now validating that and going through every department and asking for a lot of documentation, so we are really in an infancy stage right now.”
Hurricane Irma damaged much of Miami-Dade as it blew through South Florida on Sept. 10. After the destruction, county departments had to lay out unbudgeted funds to fix and replace what Irma destroyed. FEMA works to help states when they go through such natural disasters.
Stage one of the move to get that federal aid started Oct. 23, as county departments began breaking down the financial help they need and then sending it to FEMA to evaluate. Phase one also includes federal site inspections of the damage.
“Once they send it to FEMA, they (FEMA) then have to evaluate it and review it,” Mrs. Padron said. “It’s a long process, but we really haven’t gotten any project proceeds from FEMA.”
According to Mrs. Padron, there isn’t a set day on when stage one will move into stage two, but she said she believes it will be around December.
“We have weekly meetings with them and they’re meeting with all of the departments individually as well, so I’m hoping maybe by the end of the December we’ll get some project worksheets obligated,” she said. “It’s pretty massive, so they’ve added a lot more staff to the county because of our size.”
Due to the county having so many departments and being large overall, FEMA has brought in 10 to 12 people to help each department get through phase one.
While the county doesn’t have an exact number on how much financial help it expects from FEMA, the county’s current rough estimate is $471 million total.
“It’s a high-level estimate for the whole thing,” Mrs. Padron said. “As they get refined some of them might come down and others might come up as they meet with FEMA and the engineers and so on.”
Two of the departments that have significant damage include parks and recreation sector and the waste department.
“The debris removal was the biggest chunk of it,” Mrs. Padron said. “They’re going to be looking at the documentation, so we’re compiling all of that, the invoices and the contacts and everything else.”
In terms of FEMA’s contribution, the agency will pay an average 75% of most expenses, with the state paying 12.5% and the county paying the final 12.5%.
Once stage one is completed, stage two will involve FEMA looking at the damage intake and then looking to see which departments are eligible and for what exactly they’re eligible. After the county makes it past stage two, it has to go through stage three, which involves budgeting money for each department, and then stage four, which is where FEMA makes final reviews and disperses funds.
After FEMA has agreed, the money is then sent to the State of Florida, which has its own process that Miami-Dade must go through in order to finally receive any funds.
“That does not include the state’s process, which is another schedule I haven’t received yet,” Mrs. Padron said. “Once the money has been approved, it will go to the state and the state has to decide how to reimburse us.”
While the exact timeline for when the money will be reimbursed is still unknown, Mrs. Padron said she hopes it will not take years.
“We’re trying,” she said. “We’re just trying to get all of our documentation to them as quickly as possible.”