RICHMOND — When storms like 2016’s Hurricane Matthew impact Virginia, recovery efforts for individuals, businesses, emergency response agencies and localities are just beginning. A complex system of federal and state grants is used to ease financial burdens of recovery, but processing those applications has typically taken several years. Using an innovative new approach, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) has consolidated grant programs, taken a regional approach to working with localities and non-profit organizations, and established a closer partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reduce the timeline to process and begin paying out nearly $22 million in Hurricane Matthew project reimbursements.
On October 8, 2016, Hurricane Matthew blew through Virginia, inflicting up to 14 inches of rain and wind gusts up to 78 miles per hour in parts of Hampton Roads. On November 2, 2016, FEMA formally announced then President Obama’s approval for an Individual Assistance declaration to assist individual homeowners impacted by Matthew, and approval of Public Assistance requests for various Hampton Roads localities 13 days later. FEMA, local governments, volunteers and VDEM began working together on a large-scale recovery operation to help localities and more than 2,200 households and businesses rebuild after floodwaters receded.
FEMA works directly with homeowners to pay out Individual Assistance grants that fund home repairs, reimbursement of property loses and other damages not covered by insurance. FEMA paid more than $9.9 million in Individual Assistance grants for Hurricane Matthew.
FEMA also uses Public Assistance grants to assist localities, emergency response agencies, private non-profits, and other state and local agencies to offset the financial costs of responding to the storm. FEMA works with localities to develop Public Assistance grant applications which VDEM is then charged with reviewing.
There are 129 projects eligible for consideration of these Public Assistance grants. To expedite the payout of these grant reimbursements, VDEM applied an innovative new approach to process Hurricane Matthew Public Assistance grants of approximately $22 million faster than ever.
“One of our major missions is to work with affected localities and emergency responders at the state and local level to reimburse them as quickly as possible for disaster response expenditures,” said VDEM State Coordinator Dr. Jeff Stern. “It is incredibly taxing on local budgets to respond to a major disaster and then not see reimbursement for months or years after that event. Municipal budgets are much too tight to float those expenses for several years. That’s why we have reorganized our agency to be more responsive to recovery needs after an event.”
VDEM Grants Manager Robbie Coates and his staff began work immediately after Matthew to speed recovery grant processing. “VDEM recently established regional offices to work more closely with localities and coordinate state and federal resources before, during and after a disaster,” Coates said. “Hurricane Matthew was the first disaster for which we were able to initiate this regional approach to expediting grant requests. We also marshaled additional VDEM staff to review grant applications as they were being submitted.”
In the past, it could take months or years of back and forth with localities, FEMA and VDEM to finalize grant requests, answer questions, and review paperwork before grant money could be allocated.
Using a streamlined approach for the first time, VDEM was able to review Hurricane Matthew grant requests as soon as they were submitted. Regional staff were dispatched to visit projects and work with local emergency managers to answer grant application questions in real-time. VDEM also streamlined the approach to payout small projects eligible for federal reimbursement, which are less than $123,000. These projects will be paid based upon estimates, rather than waiting for final documentation and receipts.
“After a typical event in the past like a hurricane or a snowstorm,” said Coates, “it would often take us years to close out all of the small projects. For Matthew, we expect to payout all of the small projects this summer—just 9 to 10 months after the storm.”
FEMA’s joint field office for Hurricane Matthew closed at the end of March, with 109 of the eligible Public Assistance grant projects already processed by VDEM. Approximately 20 projects remain to be submitted for grants. VDEM expects even those projects not yet submitted to be processed in 90 to 120 days.
Hurricane Matthew Recovery Needs Are Still Myriad
While speeding available grants to impacted areas will certainly help expedite the recovery after this major storm event, many stark realities remain for private property owners impacted by Hurricane Matthew flooding.
As part of the Hurricane Matthew Recovery and Resilience Discussion that Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran held with emergency response agencies in Hampton Roads April 13, the overall impacts of the storm were tallied and additional needs were identified.
Ultimately, 5,697 persons and/or households registered with FEMA for assistance following Hurricane Matthew. Out of that, 99.98 percent of households and individuals were inspected by FEMA and state representatives, resulting in the issuance of 2,693 housing assistance vouchers (with an average award of $3,937), 1,063 Other Needs Assistance payments (with an average award of $2,143.64) and 516 Small Business Administration loans amounting to $16,889,700. The U.S. Small Business Administration also paid out $15 million in low-interest loans to both residences and businesses to assist with recovery.
“The stark realities of this storm were that properties outside of normal storm surge and flood areas were the hardest hit,” said Ed Porner, VDEM’s Director of Recovery and Resilience. “Payments for claims under the National Flood Insurance Program were more than $48.5 million for this event, but the vast majority of property owners did not have flood insurance. Many erroneously assumed their homeowners insurance would cover flood damage, or they elected not to purchase flood insurance because they didn’t live in pre-identified flood-prone areas. This caused financial devastation for many. The low-cost of flood insurance is worth the protection from unforeseen events like Hurricane Matthew.”
With grant and loan funding sources now exhausted, many property owners are still faced with huge recovery costs. For some property owners, volunteer organizations who have been working to restore homes at no or reduced costs are the last line of hope. There are still 103 homes that will need physical repairs from volunteers after having exhausted all other avenues and 206 households that still need some form of emotional, informational, material or spiritual care from volunteer organizations.
“We are very proud of the volunteer organizations that have support relief and recovery efforts such as the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, Catholic Charities of Eastern Virginia, United Way of South Hampton Roads, Southern Baptists Conservatives of Virginia, Volunteer Hampton Roads, The Salvation Army, Team Rubicon, The Baptist General Association of Virginia, Operation Blessing, The American Red Cross, and others who have donated thousands of volunteer hours and more than $100,000 to assist impacted homeowners to get back on their feet,” said Stern. “Undoubtedly, these organizations have been a blessing to those households who have no other sources of aid during the difficult Hurricane Matthew Public AssistanceRec Fundingand long-lasting recovery process.”
VDEM works with local government, state and federal agencies and voluntary organizations to provide resources and expertise through the five mission areas of emergency management; prevention, protection, mitigation, response and recovery. To learn more about ways VDEM is working to improve disaster preparedness, response and recovery, visit www.vaemergency.gov.
Be ready. Be willing to help.
Virginia Disaster Relief Fund
How is the money distributed?
Fund proceeds will be distributed to local long-term recovery groups, members of the Virginia Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and other non-profit and faith-based organizations as a grant.
Many of these groups work directly with individuals and families following a disaster.
How else can I donate?
The Virginia Disaster Relief Fund benefits projects that include: repair or rebuilding of underinsured dwellings, transportation assistance, replacing essential household items, helping renters establish new rental residence, temporary living expenses while recovering from loss, and more.
How can I donate?
If you want to help, send checks made payable to the Treasurer of Virginia with “Virginia Disaster Relief Fund” noted in the memo line to:
P.O. Box 1971
Richmond, VA 23218-1971