FDEM Eliminates Hurricanes Matthew and Hermine Reimbursement Review Backlog
Today, the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) announced that it has successfully eliminated a backlog of reviews of federal reimbursement projects for Hurricanes Hermine and Matthew, and that there are no longer any delays associated with state reviews. This means recovery projects are now processed and paid out as they are obligated by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). FDEM also today outlined additional steps taken to ensure communities affected by these storms expeditiously receive the resources and guidance required to successfully recover- a federally supported, state-managed and locally executed operation.
The updated procedures now in place include streamlined guidelines and faster response times to better assist counties in navigating the complex federal reimbursement system. Below, you will find a fact sheet and updated stats to better explain this complicated process, as well as more information on the substantial progress that has been made this year. These changes have been demonstrated to be so effective that the Division expects Florida’s recovery from Hurricane Irma to be the fastest closeout following a major storm in US history
Please see below, information and facts regarding reimbursements from Hurricane Hermine and Hurricane Matthew and what FDEM is doing to expedite this process:
$174.5 million under review for FEMA obligation (382 projects)
$316.2 million obligated (1,153 projects)
Of those obligated funds:
more than half, or approximately $160 million, has been paid.
approximately $20 million will be paid within a week.
$79.1 million remains unrequested by applicants.
FDEM has recently instituted changes that have streamlined and accelerated the state review process:
FDEM has brought on additional technical experts to assist in the state review of projects for corrections or compliance issues. This has completely eliminated a prior-existing review backlog.
FDEM has begun to pre-validate project costs. This results in those projects being ‘payment ready’ when a Request for Reimbursement (RFR) is submitted.
FDEM has updated what was an antiquated system to make it more user-friendly and transparent. We created a system that allows on demand reporting for subrecipients, providing better awareness regarding the status of projects and payments. The Division also readily provides project status updates upon request.
FDEM has continued revising our internal processes to eliminate redundant and unnecessary steps.
FDEM built an effective and productive partnership with the Chief Financial Officer’s (CFO) office. Through demonstrated thoroughness and established trust, this partnership has reduced Division of Financial Services (DFS) project review times from an average of ten weeks to, in all cases, less than seven days.
Through working with FEMA, FDEM has been provided with a suggested list of documentation, by subject area, that they would need to efficiently process expedited claims. We have disseminated that information to all applicants.
As demonstrated in the graphic below, these changes have not only ensured best practices, but have had a direct and positive effect on the speed at which Florida processes and pays out federal reimbursement claims. The changes outlined above took effect during the late summer and fall of 2017.
MORE ABOUT THE PUBLIC ASSISTANCE GRANT PROGRAM
The Public Assistance grant program is an essential source of funding for communities recovering from a federally declared disaster or emergency. Among the most important resources offered to support local communities on their road to recovery is the FEMA Public Assistance grant program.
Applicants work directly with FEMA to develop project worksheets and scopes of work. Following FEMA and FDEM approval of initial project submissions, FEMA obligates funding for the project to the state. The Division then works with the applicant to carefully and deliberately review the submitted request and ensure the presence of documentation required by the previously agreed-upon scope of work.
State reviews are critical to preventing future federal claw backs of funds associated with later FEMA financial reviews. In the past, these funding de-obligations have proven detrimental to both state and local governments and have often led to budget instability in impacted communities.
For storms prior to Hurricane Irma, Florida has been obligated more than $5.1 billion dollars. Of that, almost $1.6 billion has been de-obligated by the federal government, leaving many communities critically vulnerable to future disasters. In some cases, more than half of the reimbursement funds obligated for a storm were reclaimed later by FEMA. For Hurricane Gustav, for example, approximately 64% of federally approved and obligated reimbursement funds were de-obligated.
Roles and Responsibilities
Local governments and other applicants are responsible for identifying damages, as well as working with FEMA to develop a scope of work and cost estimate for eligible projects.
FEMA is responsible for authorizing the Public Assistance grant program, approving and funding projects and working with local entities to develop appropriate project submissions.
FDEM is responsible for disbursing and acting as a good steward of federally obligated tax dollars. The Division conducts final reviews for obligation of projects submitted by FEMA on behalf of requesting entities. Once FEMA has approved a project, the Division works with the applicant to ensure sufficient documentation has been provided in accordance with the associated and previously agreed upon scope of work and funding agreement. Funds are then expeditiously disbursed.
Why Documentation is Vital
There always remains the possibility that the federal government will de-obligate funding, even if that project was approved by FEMA. This typically happens when money was not spent in the manner agreed upon in the original scope of work and funding agreement. Federal reviews often determine money was spent incorrectly, that adequate documentation was not submitted or that subrecipients received or attempted to collect funding from multiple sources for a single project. A duplication of benefits with regards to federal reimbursements is expressly prohibited by the federal laws and guidelines that govern the public assistance process. These findings lead to serious budget vulnerabilities and are an extreme waste of taxpayer money.
In the past, federal de-obligations have resulted billions of dollars stolen from Florida communities- important funds that have likely already been spent. Making sure that this potentially devastating situation does not occur again is the driving force behind the Division’s current recovery operations and the reason why we exhaustively review every single project submission.