Florida communities cleaning up and making repairs after Hurricane Irma may expect the U.S. government to reimburse their costs, but an analysis by The Associated Press shows the Federal Emergency Management Agency make take years to pay those bills – if it pays up at all.
Dozens of requests for reimbursement from FEMA are still pending, including at least three cases in Florida pending for over a decade.
The Escambia County School District and the Community Action Program Committee, a nonprofit organization in Pensacola offering utility and education assistance to low-income families, each have multiple projects that followed Hurricane Ivan in 2004 still being reviewed by FEMA.
Also still under review: work completed by the Archdiocese of Miami after Hurricane Katrina hit the state in 2005 on its way to the Gulf Coast.
Among AP’s review of final appeals of public assistance from FEMA nationally were 103 rulings for requests from local governments and nonprofits in Florida from 1999 through 2013.
The vast majority of Florida’s appeals stemmed from eight hurricanes that impacted the state in 2004 and 2005. Fifteen requests from those two years involved work related to multiple hurricanes.
Overall, FEMA denied 66 appeals totaling more than $162.9 million in Florida. The denials included appeals to cover debris removal officials found ineligible for a variety of reasons, labor costs, structural repairs and projects such as sea oat replenishment at a state park and sediment removal from the St. John’s River.
Another 37 appeals were at least partially granted and received over $36.4 million from FEMA. The approved projects included debris removal from private roads, sinkhole repairs, sand replacement at some beaches and emergency generators at a water and sewage treatment facility.
There are three pending appeals in Florida, according to FEMA’s database, but the data did not include details about the projects except the date they were filed and which storms they were related to.
Miami archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said in an email Friday she could not provide more information on her organization’s pending appeal, though she added a Sept. 28 statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supporting legislation that would ensure religious institutions’ eligibility for federal disaster assistance.
“Perhaps when such an Act of Congress is in place, these claims would no longer be complicated or deemed unfair,” she said.
Officials at the Escambia County school district and the Pensacola community organization did not immediately respond to AP’s requests for more information.
However, the data show another appeal for $1 million from the school district for Ivan debris removal at 25 schools was granted in 2007 after FEMA determined the amount requested as “reasonable.”