Shutdown stalls $2,000 tornado help program

It turns out the federal government shutdown that started in December and covered most of January will delay imposition of Custer County’s tornado reimbursement program after all.
“It’s all still on go. I just don’t know when,” Emergency Management Director Mike Galloway told county commissioners this week.
“The people at FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) that approve it were part of the furlough. They’ve got a pile of projects from five states.”
People who signed up for the program still stand a chance of getting reimbursed up to $2,000 of what they spend on a safe room if their application is one of those approved. But Galloway said Wednesday they shouldn’t spend the money expecting to be reimbursed until they know their application is approved.
“Had we not had the furlough, we would have expected this project to already be happening,” he said. “Until they work through the backlog, we’re sitting and waiting.”
Galloway said three levels of government are involved – county, state and federal. Applications he collected last fall are still in the system waiting approval.
FEMA Region No. 6 of which Oklahoma is a part has five states. Galloway said on this project, applications went into the system in the order they were received.
“The state representative who worked with us is hopeful of seeing something in the next couple of weeks,” he said, “but that’s only a guesstimate.”
Originally he applied for a $100,000 grant which he thought would provide $2,000 rebates for 50 homeowners. Now he thinks there could be as many as 55.
He said Wednesday he ended up with 82 applications. He said he turned them in, and the state forwarded them to Region 6 of FEMA.
“They have a backlog from five states,” he said. “When we get approved by Region 6, we’ll have another meeting and decide how the 50 (or 55) get picked. We’re at the mercy of three different levels of government. It’s hard to estimate the time of approval when you’re dealing with that many levels.”
Galloway thought in January when the federal government shutdown started it would not affect the tornado program. He said then he’d found out the person Custer County’s grants were submitted to was not furloughed, so he thought things would proceed as normal.
Obviously, that wasn’t the case.
The good news, though, is that the delay should give him a stockpile of applicants to start with on the next reimbursement program. “We’ll start with those who showed an interest this time (and didn’t get selected),” he said.
Galloway said the objective of course is to save lives but ironically, advance warnings of an approaching tornado can make people who don’t already have a safe room more vulnerable than they already are. He said if it takes more than 15 minutes for people to get from wherever they are to a shelter, their danger could increase.
“You’re more vulnerable because you’re out trying to get to a shelter (when the tornado hits),” he said. “These safe rooms make that trip a lot shorter.”
Of course, people can always have a shelter installed and pay for it themselves, but Galloway said they should not expect the $2,000 reimbursement unless they’ve been approved in advance.
“FEMA doesn’t approve vendors, but they’ve created standards,” he said. “Unless your vendor meets the minimum standard, you won’t be eligible for a rebate.
“Some people have their shelter installed and then come to me for reimbursement. It doesn’t work that way.”

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