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Low Disaster Fund Restricts SD FEMA Payments

August 30, 2011, 6:00 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Low Disaster Fund Restricts SD FEMA Payments
BROOKINGS, SD - The federal disaster relief fund has reached dangerously low levels and it will affect funding for flood recovery projects in South Dakota.

Because of all the disasters across the country this year many worry FEMA is running on fumes. It's why the agency is now working under 'immediate needs' restrictions and only funding immediate and emergency needs for disasters.

FEMA typically likes to have more than $1 billion in the disaster relief fund, right now the fund has been drained down to $790 million.

FEMA officials in South Dakota say they will continue to pay out flood assistance to individual homeowners, local cities and counties in the state.  The projects that will see delayed payments are long-term projects like the rebuilding of roads that have been damaged by flooding.

"So, it's a full-court press to be able to support the needs of the country right now," FEMA Federal Coordinating Officer Mark Neveau said.

FEMA officials are in South Dakota right now processing disaster payments for this year's flooding out of an office in Brookings, but all of the disasters nationwide have depleted the federal disaster relief fund and FEMA is restricting the projects it pays for. In South Dakota that means payments for long-term flood recovery projects will be delayed.

"To be clear, it doesn't mean we won't fund it; it just means it's going to be postponed for a period of time," Neveau said.

Money for roads that have to be rebuilt because of flooding will be delayed, and the buy-out program for flooded homes in Waubay will be put on hold. The restrictions won't be lifted until Congress approves more money for the fund.

"What we'll do is continue to operate under the restrictions until such time as a continuing resolution or a Congressional budget it passed," Neveau said.

FEMA will continue to pay out individual assistance for homeowners in the flooded counties along the Missouri River; so far they've approved $750,000 to help homeowners.

"It will allow us to continue to fund family and individual aid, for instance, those folks who need assistance for temporary housing or to help them rebuild," Neveau said.

Despite the restrictions FEMA is also allowed to pay back the state for the millions of sandbags that were used, the National Guard troops who patrolled the flooded communities and for all the levees that were built.

"It's all the most urgent needs to help families and individuals that we will continue and to reimburse the state and local communities to be able to recover. Long-term projects are the ones that will be put on hold for a period of time," Neveau said.

Congress is working on replenishing the fund.

The House included $1 billion in extra money for the fund in a bill that was passed earlier this summer, but the Senate hasn't taken any action on the bill in the last three months.

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