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Does FEMA have money for Irma?

With FEMA cash-strapped, Matthew victims in Florida still waiting on assistance

Congress will vote Wednesday on a nearly $8 billion relief package for Harvey victims, as Irma continues to barrel toward Florida.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency is cash-strapped -- it's in the red and is set to expire in four weeks if it's not renewed by lawmakers.

The News4Jax I-TEAM found the program went underwater itself in 2005.

Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma here in Florida packed a $17.89 billion blow, putting FEMA in a massive hole. Without a relief package it won't be able to stay afloat, unless taxpayers bail it out.

Right now, the National Flood Insurance Program, an arm of FEMA, is $25 billion in debt. CNN Money reports the program has less than $2 billion in cash on hand, with only $6 billion left in borrowing capacity.

But with the one-two punch of Harvey and Irma looming, there are serious concerns.

According to CNN, as Texas dries out from Harvey, FEMA has already given 53 Texas counties emergency declarations with more than 11 million people impacted. Most homeowners do not have flood insurance.

Damage will be in the billions, and FEMA is approving rush recovery money, including advancepayouts from $5,000 to $20,000 to homeless Harvey victims.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Matthew storm victims in Florida are still waiting on some assistance.

"There's only so much money to go around," Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., told News4Jax on Friday at his Jacksonville office, where he was addressing concerns about the program.

RELATED: When will FEMA reimburse local governments for Matthew costs?

According to FEMA, in comparison to Harvey, only nine counties were declared disasters from Hurricane Matthew, including Duval, St. Johns, Nassau, Flagler and Putnam counties. More than 6,800 people were impacted, with $20 million in payouts to individuals and $67 million in public assistance to local governments and municipalities. 

Tia Ford, spokeswoman for Mayor Lenny Curry's office, told the I-TEAM on Tuesday that the city applied for $27,141,894.86 to FEMA for reimbursement from Matthew, but had not received any of that money to date.

"FEMA is purely able to survive if FEMA is appropriated money," Nelson said. "The last time we had a big fight on this was Hurricane Sandy in the northeast of the United States."

Before Hurricane Harvey, President Donald Trump had proposed possible cuts in favor of privatizing the flood industry. The deadline to reauthorize the federal program is Oct. 1.

According to Pew Research Center, more development in Florida's coastal areas -- with sprawling development and asphalt -- can't absorb rain like land can, meaning more people are at risk over the years, more expenses and more destruction. 

If the program is not renewed, new flood policies can't be written, which would greatly impact coastal home values and resales.


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