State expects to file long-overdue reimbursement appeals to FEMA shortly
Naples Daily News talked with a FEMA representative. Watch the Facebook Live recording.
WASHINGTON -- Weeks after acknowledging it missed a federal deadline to help counties cover hurricane cleanup costs, the Florida Division of Emergency Management said it expects to file the formal requests in the coming days.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency had initially denied several claims for help from counties impacted by Hurricane Matthew, which struck the state nearly a year ago. Those local governments submitted appeals within a federally enforced 60-day window. Serving as a liaison for the claims, the state DEM was to submit those appeals on behalf of the counties but failed to do so in time.
On Aug. 31, DEM Director Bryan Koon said an internal investigation earlier this year found the problem to be much bigger than Matthew. It turns out 26 county and local government public assistance appeals affecting 18 applicants, a majority of which are related to 2004-2005 emergency recovery, did not reach FEMA within the appropriate time frame.
The discovery led to the firing of two staffers in the agency
“While these appeals have all been denied at least once by FEMA, we are fully committed to working with local, county, state and federal governments to ensure these appeals are considered,” he said in a statement.
Those appeals will be submitted shortly, according to DEM spokesman Alberto Moscoso.
“DEM must endorse every appeal,” he said in an email late Tuesday. “Therefore, we have been carefully reviewing each individual case for merit. We intend to submit all outstanding appeals to FEMA before the end of this week.”
There’s no guarantee FEMA will make an exception.
In a Sept. 29 letter to Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fl., who has been pressing FEMA not to penalize counties for the state’s mistake, FEMA Regional Administrator Gracia B. Szczech made no promises.
“To date, we have not received any of the appeals in question, but we will take your concerns into full consideration as we review any appeals that may be submitted,” she wrote.
Jeopardized claims from Hurricane Matthew included those from Flagler and Volusia counties. Brevard County could lose up to $300,000.
Hurricane Matthew buzzed Florida's Atlantic coast on Oct. 7 with its most powerful winds about 30 miles away from land. Its eye wall barely clipped NASA's Cape Canaveral launch facility with wind speeds between 96 and 110 mph.
Southwest Florida communities reflect on their needs after Hurricane Irma. Katie Klann/Naples Daily News
Two people were killed during the storm in Putnam and Volusia counties after trees fell on them. Some of the most significant damage was in Volusia, where 69 homes were destroyed and 467 sustained major damage, according to a National Weather Service report.
DEM officials note that the 26 cases of tardy appeals represents only a fraction of the emergency reimbursements it has handled over the past decade on behalf of county and local entities.
Florida Today Government Editor Dave Berman contributed to this story.