With the continued devastation in Texas from Harvey, local governments in Northeast Florida still waiting to receive federal money from Hurricane Matthew will be waiting even longer.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency told local governments their payments are on hold.
When Harvey slammed the Texas coast, bringing flood waters, emails were sent out to local emergency management officials, saying the 10-and-a-half-month wait for money from FEMA will be pushed back at least several more months.
FEMA has to divert millions of dollars to Harvey relief, which means projects -- including the wrecked Shands Pier along the St. Johns River in Clay County -- won't be repaired anytime soon.
Stuart Williams told News4Jax he would like to see the pier that he fished on fixed. But federal funds, for now, will be diverted to Texas.
"Used it a lot but it got destroyed in the hurricane," Williams said. "I really think they need to tear it down or repair it. I mean, it's really a hazard. There’s debris down there. They need to tear it down or repair it."
Clay County Emergency Management Director John Ward said he just received notice from FEMA that most funds are on hold -- money that was slated to pay for repairs to the county health department damaged by Hurricane Matthew.
"They're putting a hold on all FEMA reimbursements from Category B through G," Ward said. "We will eventually get it back. Unfortunately, it's a very time consuming process. Unfortunately, as you said, we're 10 and a half months into this and many counties haven't gotten anything from FEMA yet."
The rough bill for FEMA from Clay County is $17.3 million -- about $2 million is from categories that will still be paid and not affected, which means Clay County is still about $15 million in the hole.
Other counties are dealing with the same issue. In St. Johns County, officials told News4Jax this is “hopefully short-term until October when a new budget comes out." In Nassau County, News4Jax was told this impacts special projects and the operating budget.
But in Duval County, there weren’t a lot of specifics when Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was asked about FEMA funds. He said the city will get its money, but now’s not the appropriate time to talk about it.
"We’re seeking reimbursement," Curry said. "But being that Texas -- the country -- we’re in the midst of crisis, I’d rather not speak to any of the challenges there. I’d just say let’s all be prayerful and hopeful to the people in need right now."
That means repairs here will have to wait. But people understand that Texas is a priority.
Other county emergency management officials said they’re not out of the woods yet with Irma swirling out in the water and other storms that could potentially pop up -- delaying federal payments even more.
Nelson, Rutherford says reimbursement to be addressed when Congress reconvenes
U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., visited Jacksonville on Friday afternoon, talking about a wide range of topics impacting the city. The most important one, though, with Hurricane Irma moving west in the Atlantic, was when could local counties and cities see the FEMA money requested after Hurricane Matthew.
The short answer: Be patient.
Nelson said the money will eventually be there to pay back claims in Florida, but it has to be appropriated by Congress first since what money FEMA has is going to Texas right now.
"There's only so much money to go around, and FEMA is saying they've got to use the money they have to help Texas," Nelson said at his Jacksonville office.
Nelson said millions of dollars in outstanding Hurricane Matthew claims from Florida are now on hold, but as soon as Congress reconvenes next week, work will begin to make sure all the necessary money is there.
"What will happen is we will appropriate the money, so there won't be an excuse," Nelson said. "The folks here in Florida ought to be reimbursed for the expenses. They are due it, it's lawful and it should be done. It should have already been done."
U.S. Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., agreed with that statement earlier this week.
"Congress has no problem multitasking. We can do that and the bills that we need to address, like tax reform and health care reform," Rutherford, who represents the 4th District of Florida.
How quickly that will happen, and when cities and counties could see that funding, is something that both hope Congress makes a priority.
News4Jax asked Nelson whether he thought other congressmen might try to tie money for other projects into allocating more money to FEMA. He said he thinks it could happen, but he thinks everyone will have a close eye on it to make sure it is just money to help with Matthew and Harvey claims.
Mistake could cost local governments in Florida millions
The state Division of Emergency Management has fired two people after they failed to meet a deadline to submit 26 federal appeals sought by Florida counties and cities. The mistake could cost local governments in Florida millions.
The appeals requested by 18 Florida cities or counties total more than $4.5 million. The money would reimburse local governments for hurricane costs.
Nelson said the firing of the employees isn’t enough.
“That still doesn't help all of the counties and the cities that are in the hole for, in this case, millions of dollars," Nelson said.
Emergency managers refused to be interviewed for this story, but in a statement, said staff changes and procedural improvements have been implemented along with the firings.
The Florida Division of Emergency Management said it is conducting an audit of itself to figure out what exactly went wrong and what needs to be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again. In the meantime, the affected local governments will have to cross their fingers the money will be forthcoming.
Nelson personally requested FEMA to extend the deadline, saying local governments shouldn’t have to pay for the state’s mistake.
“I met with 25 local government city and county managers and I'm telling you they're desperate. They've got a big hole in their budget because FEMA is not reimbursing them the cost that they front loaded to clean up after Hurricane Mathew," Nelson said.
The division insists this incident won't interrupt the hundred of appeals it has already submitted to FEMA.
In a statement, the Division of Emergency Management said, "While these appeals have all been denied at least once by FEMA, we are fully committed to working with local, county, state and federal governments to ensure these appeals are considered."