Will Florence affect local governments still awaiting FEMA reimbursement?

NE Florida counties waiting for federal disaster relief money after 2 hurricanes

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CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – As Hurricane Florence targets the Carolinas, many federal resources are preparing to help with disaster relief.

It brings up the questions of whether it will affect Northeast Florida counties still waiting for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reimburse them for the millions they spent on cleanup and recover after hurricanes Matthew and Irma. 

Counties from Duval to Putnam saw damage, including flooding, toppled trees and scattered debris.

According to FEMA, most homeowners who have suffered damage in the two hurricanes received federal help, but local governments that spent millions on trash haulers to remove debris, as well as overtime for hundreds of law enforcement officers and firefighters, are still waiting to be reimbursed. 

In Clay County, the Shands Fishing Pier remains damaged after hurricanes Matthew and Irma. Years later, it hasn't been repaired because the local government is still waiting to get paid back for the bills they had to foot during the hurricanes. 

John Ward, director of Clay County Emergency Management, told News4Jax on Thursday that they've only received payment for a small amount of damage that Irma cost them. 

"We finally got our final checks from Hurricane Matthew just a few months ago," Ward said. "From Hurricane Irma, which we were right in the area of having $12.3 million in damages and response costs (and) we’ve been working with a multitude of those costs, we’ve got about $380,000 of that back."

In Duval County, Jacksonville Beach still needs reimbursement for the $1.5 million it spent on Irma cleanup.

Also in Duval County, Jacksonville's city government spent $70 million on Irma cleanup. The city has yet to receive any money. 

St. Johns County is in the same boat. It paid out $12 million.

Putnam County got some money back, about $600,000, from the $7.8 million the storm cost.

These counties are still waiting for the feds to reimburse them for damages from Matthew in 2016. 

Now the question is whether those reimbursements will be impacted by Florence.

Ward believes local governments will get their money soon, but said there's concern that Florence delays federal reimbursement even more. 

"I think the concern is always there. We get great response from our partners from FEMA, and have been working very aggressively for that, especially when you see the magnitude of what Florence is going to bring in that’s going to be a wide impacted area," Ward said.

Ward said it usually took six to eight months to get federal money to local governments, but after numerous major storms in just two years, that is no longer the case.

To date, FEMA has approved $242 million for local governments for various cleanup projects, but a lot of that has not yet been paid. 

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