Only 1% of Florida FEMA aid disbursed nearly year after Irma

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – While the one year anniversary of Hurricane Irma is less than three months away, federal aid still hasn’t made it to many local communities.

“Cities that are on the front lines are having to figure out will the money be there or not be there as they prepare their budgets,” said Jeff Branch, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities.

The State Division of Emergency Management (DEM) has received more than $108 million from FEMA, but only one percent (about $1.1 million) has actually been given to local governments.  

204 communities that have applied are still waiting for aid.

“DEM says it's FEMA. FEMA says it's DEM,” said Branch.

It’s not uncommon for federal aid to be slow following a disaster. 

In Leon County, the vast majority of FEMA aid for Hurricane Hermine, which hit the panhandle in 2016 was only received a few months ago.

“We understand that the process for FEMA reimbursement takes some amount of time,” said Mathieu Cavell, Assistant to the Leon County Administrator for Community Relations.

While Leon County was able to cover the cost with reserves that’s not the case for all communities.

“Cities are having to decide how to figure out whether or not services will be reduced or services will be cut,” said Branch.

Cavell says it speaks to the importance of having a disaster fund in place before a storm hits.

“Because when disaster strikes it's too late to have the policies in place that align you best for FEMA reimbursement,” said Cavell.

There have been cases of local government receiving FEMA dollars, only to have to pay back a portion years later. 

Part of the delay this time is the state trying to make sure the expenses are justified.

In a statement, DEM pointed the finger at local governments for the slow disbursement, noting nearly 80 percent of the federal funds haven't been requested. 

DEM says it’s waiting on documentation from local communities before it can disperse the vast majority of the $13.6 million that have been requested.