[StBernard] State Payouts for Public Assistance Program Surpass $3 Billion

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Wed Mar 12 16:20:36 EDT 2008

State Payouts for Public Assistance Program Surpass $3 Billion

BATON ROUGE, La. (March 12, 2008) - The state of Louisiana has paid out more than $3 billion to local governments for emergency response, debris removal and permanent rebuilding through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) Public Assistance program, the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) and the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) announced today.

The latest numbers indicate the state has disbursed $3,095,802,370 to more than 1000 Public Assistance applicants, paying on 13,362 project worksheets since the storms of 2005.

In the last year alone payments for long-term bricks and mortar reconstruction is starting to accelerate as applicants complete post-storm recovery and move into rebuilding work. In the heavily damaged parishes of Orleans, St. Bernard, Jefferson, St. Tammany and Plaquemines payments have more than doubled for long-term permanent rebuilding work, which includes repairs to roads, schools and public buildings. In Southwest Louisiana, Cameron Parish has seen increases in payments of three times for permanent rebuilding work in the last year.

"Meeting this milestone marks a significant step in Louisiana's recovery and once again shows just how far we've come in the last two and a half years. While much has been done, billions of dollars worth of rebuilding remains to be completed," said LRA Executive Director Paul Rainwater. "By streamlining the reimbursement process and cutting time consuming red-tape with last week's launch of the Express Pay System we have already witnessed an increase in the speed of payments to local governments for rebuilding projects. We must continue to act with a sense of urgency to speed the pace of recovery. In doing so, our efforts will persist in searching for creative ways to strengthen the relationship between our local, state and federal partners to increase productivity."

In the first 36 hours of the Express Pay System more than $40 million was paid to local applicants.

Previously the payment process averaged between 45 and 60 days to make reimbursements to the Public Assistance applicant. The new Express Pay System allows applicants to submit a reimbursement request with the required documentation and receive payment within 10 to 14 business days.

While the time period for reimbursements from the Public Assistance program have been reduced, the state's internal controls, which must ensure that costs are allowable under federal law, are still in place. The Express Pay System has the support and backing of the Legislative Auditor and is being implemented to improve efficiencies in government.

"Reaching the $3 billion mark is a major accomplishment and a testament to the close cooperation among FEMA, the state and the local applicants utilizing the Public Assistance funding to rebuild Louisiana," said Acting Associate Deputy Administrator for FEMA's Gulf Coast Recovery Office Jim Stark. "Now, with the state's innovative, new Express Pay System, even more money will make it into the hands of local governments and private nonprofits to help spur along the recovery process."

So far, FEMA has obligated more than $6 billion for Public Assistance projects in Louisiana, with the state paying out over half of these dollars. As a cash reimbursement program, the state disbursement rate is over 93 percent on funds requested from local applicants.

FEMA's Public Assistance program works with state and local governments and certain private non-profit organizations to fund recovery measures such as the rebuilding of buildings, roads, bridges and water and sewer plants.

"There is simply no way to overstate what a great accomplishment this is for the State of Louisiana, " said Mark Riley, Deputy Director of Disaster Recovery, GOHSEP, "More than $3 billion in state payouts in 28 months only shows the progress from collaborated efforts at the state, local and federal levels in this recovery."

Project funds are obligated by FEMA through the Public Assistance program. Once the funds are obligated by FEMA, the applicant must request reimbursement from GOHSEP for eligible work completed. Obligated funds may change over time as the project is often adjusted as bids come in and scope of work is aligned.

During his first day in office, Governor Bobby Jindal issued an Executive Order naming LRA Executive Director Paul Rainwater as his authorized representative to FEMA's Public Assistance program. The LRA is working in conjunction with GOHSEP and its federal partners to identify ways to streamline the Public Assistance process and improve efficiency.

To view a spreadsheet containing the amount paid to parishes for rebuilding public assistance projects click here. <http://www.lra.louisiana.gov/assets/031208ParishPAPayouts.pdf>

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated South Louisiana, claiming 1,464 lives, destroying more than 200,000 homes and 18,000 businesses. The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) is the planning and coordinating body that was created in the aftermath of these storms to lead one of the most extensive rebuilding efforts in the world. The LRA is a 33-member body which is coordinating across jurisdictions, supporting community recovery and resurgence, ensuring integrity and effectiveness, and planning for the recovery and rebuilding of Louisiana.


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