MARATHON, FL – Monroe County officials and staff, along with other leaders in the Keys, met with FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Allan Jarvis and Florida Division of Emergency Management (DEM) Director Wes Maul at a public meeting at the Marathon Government Center on Monday.
Monroe County and the Keys municipalities all cited one major problem: slow FEMA reimbursement for Irma emergency expenses incurred by the County and municipalities. This was the same message local leaders presented to U.S. Senator Marco Rubio during another public meeting regarding Hurricane Irma recovery held in Marathon last week.
The local leaders reiterated that the County and municipalities have spent all or most of their emergency reserves for the Category 4 hurricane that struck the Keys on Sept. 10, 2017, and need to replenish those emergency reserves soon with the start of the next hurricane season less than two months away.
As of March 30, the County has submitted $17.4 million in expenses for reimbursement. It’s a complex process to ensure taxpayer money is properly spent. The County has worked with FEMA and state officials to ensure that the paperwork and essential documentation is complete. So far, FEMA has approved $3.3 million of this submitted amount and has sent the funding to the state Department of Emergency Management (DEM). But DEM has yet to finish its process and send funds to the County.
DEM and FEMA officials both acknowledged that the reimbursement process is lengthy and cumbersome, and said they understood the gravity of the depleted reserves situation for the local governments and would work to speed up the reimbursement process.
With resources exhausted and no FEMA reimbursement to date, the County has had to take out a $40 million line of credit to ensure being able to cover Irma expenses. The County has estimated a preliminary cost of $103.7 million for Hurricane Irma-related expenses. This figure does not include the airports or mitigation.
Monroe County Commissioner George Neugent and Heather Carruthers both spoke about the need for help with housing for Keys’ residents who lost their homes due to Hurricane Irma. Initial damage assessments in the Keys showed that 4,156 homes were either destroyed or substantially damaged.