FEMA breakdown reveals fund allocations by state
By David Taube
VERMONT PRESS BUREAU | August 28,2012
A storm that’s caused an estimated $15.8 billion in damage to states along the East Coast has led to a wide range in how federal aid has been awarded and received.
Tropical Storm Irene — also referred to as Hurricane Irene in some areas — caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to numerous states, but some federal agency programs have approved significantly higher amounts of federal money to states other than Vermont. Several states have also had funds obligated to their budgets more quickly than Vermont, sometimes due to necessity. At least one delay of funds in the Green Mountain State was due to uncertainty over funding.
“They’re probably just further along,” FEMA spokesman Dennis Pinkham said of one difference among states.
A recent Associated Press tally from this week put New York state with more than $1.3 billion in damage, New Jersey with $1 billion in damage, Vermont with $733 million in damage, North Carolina with at least $1.2 billion in damage and the Caribbean with at least $370 million in damage.
It’s unclear what kind of report card marks some of these hardest-hit states would receive in terms of securing federal aid, and comparisons are not straightforward. But certain differences have emerged.
In buyouts, where municipalities give money to a property owner in order to restore the flood plain with replacements like fields, New Jersey had a response FEMA rarely sees, according to FEMA Region II spokesman Don Caetano, whose area also covers New York and Puerto Rico.
While many buyouts typically occur two years after a disaster well after joint field offices close, many New Jersey buyouts occurred within six months of the storm, he said.
New Jersey received an estimated $45 million for hazard mitigation projects six months after Irene and New York received $88 million.
Vermont’s obligated amount so far in that area is $1.5 million.
States, however, can receive money for hazard mitigation projects up to 15 percent of the total of public and individual assistance amounts. Vermont’s $125.5 million in public assistance and $23 million in individual assistance means that the hazard mitigation grant has an enormous potential left.
Total damages between states show even more drastic differences.
In FEMA public assistance money, where disaster grants can help with anything from debris removal to public building repairs, FEMA awarded New York state $627.925 million and guaranteed it $268 million of Aug. 1. They awarded New Jersey $126 million and guaranteed it $95 million, Caetano said.
FEMA staffers said the Green Mountain State, however, does not have a total awarded because of the question of how much the Waterbury state office complex project will receive. Vermont’s allocation, which spokesman David Mace said he believed was up-to-date as of Friday, was $125.5 million.
One U.S. Labor Department grant also has Vermont slowly picking up speed. A nearly $1.7 million award from September has $560,000 spent so far.
Other states, however, have spent more than half of their national emergency grant, which can help with temporary jobs or training. Pennsylvania had $10 million approved and has received nearly $6.7 million. New York had nearly $16.2 million approved and has received almost $10.4 million.
North Carolina’s award was more similar to Vermont at $2 million. But more than $1.1 million has already been received.
Federal Labor Department spokeswoman Gloria Della said that receiving money more quickly or slowly than others is not necessarily good or bad, but the timing is based on a state’s needs.
For the labor money, states have to provide a good-faith estimate based on recovery needs, anticipating how many workers they’ll need for debris removal and construction. A governor has to request the money, and the amount has to be justified, Della said. The award amount doesn’t necessarily need to be used, she said.
Although the grants can expire, there are extensions.
“It was very slow in the beginning, but it’s really picked up,” Vermont Labor Department work-force development director Rose Lucenti said.
Vermont received two other National Emergency Grants from the U.S. Labor Department given storms and flooding before Irene, one for about $1.2 million and another for $60,000. Both have had extensions, Lucenti said.
“I think it’s great for the organization and the entities we’ve been able to assist and Vermonters, some of who lost everything,” she said. “Some lost their jobs, their homes, everything, and this has given them the opportunity to get back to work.”
The Green Mountain State does have a giant lead compared to other hard-hit states in terms of how much money the state Agency of Transportation has had reimbursed compared to other state highway departments.
Emergency relief funding projects for Irene with the Federal Highway Administration are still ongoing, and some reimbursement requests to the federal government may be in queue. And as with other comparisons, each area of the storm was unique to each state.
New Jersey received $74 million in emergency relief funding for highway projects, New York brought in $80 million, North Carolina received $23 million, Virginia brought in 14 million and Vermont received $145 million, according to a recent summary.