UPDAte: U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on Friday turned the tables on Gov. Rick Scott's criticism of the federal budget cuts and said the governor should be putting pressure on Republican congressmen who sought the sequester that has forced full-time employees of the Florida National Guard into furloughs during hurricane season.
Nelson, a Democrat, also quoted FEMA's legal staff and noted that, as governor, Scott has the power to call the guard into duty during hurricane season and thereby circumvent the budget cuts and the furloughs.
"If you as Governor activate the National Guard in anticipation of a federal disaster, the state’s costs, including the costs to recall any furloughed Guardsmen, will be fully reimbursable by FEMA,'' Nelson wrote.
Nelson also urged the governor to put pressure on his Republican colleagues in Washington, especially those in the Republican-controlled House which agreed to the sequester in 2011 as a way to resolve an impass on the debt ceiling.
"You could be enormously helpful by urging some of the Florida Republican members of Congress to get rid of the sequester by exploring with us more sensible and strategic ways to reduce the budget for the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1,'' Nelson wrote in his letter to Scott.
Melissa Sellers, the governor's spokeswoman, turned the blame to Nelson in a statement late Friday.
"It's unfortunate that Senator Nelson refuses to take any action in 2013 to fix the National Guard furloughs, which pose the same public safety risk as the FAA furloughs he asked the Obama Administration to stop a few weeks ago,'' she said.
Scott had penned a letter to Nelson and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on Thursday urging them to exempt the National Guard from the forced budget cuts. Beginning July 1, through the end of the federal budget year on Sept. 30, 993 members of the Florida National Guard will go to a four-day work week as a result of the across-the-board budget cuts. Nelson and Rubio have both said that with the federal budget ending in September there is little time to change direction.
Here's Nelson's letter:
United States Senate
Washington, D.C. 20510
June 7, 2013
The Honorable Rick Scott
Governor of Florida
400 S. Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
Dear Gov. Scott:
I appreciate your letter of June 5, echoing the concerns Maj. Gen. Emmett R. Titshaw Jr. publicly expressed about sequestration in his opinion column published last month by the National Guard Association of The United States.
I have had my staff examining the Florida National Guard’s risk assessment and requests for relief, as well as the Department of Defense’s consideration of those requests; and, any actions taken by authorities so far to mitigate possible readiness risks during the 2013 hurricane season.
As was reported today by Gannett newspapers in Florida, Sen. Marco Rubio and I both agree nothing can be changed right now with only a few months left in this fiscal year.
Instead, you could be enormously helpful by urging some of the Florida Republican members of Congress to get rid of the sequester by exploring with us more sensible and strategic ways to reduce the budget for the next fiscal year, starting Oct. 1.
Regarding your concern about increased costs to the state, let me share with you what I have received from the legal office of FEMA Director Craig Fugate. If you as Governor activate the National Guard in anticipation of a federal disaster, the state’s costs, including the costs to recall any furloughed Guardsmen, will be fully reimbursable by FEMA.
Specifically: “For the purposes of FEMA Public Assistance (PA) Emergency Work reimbursement, the National Guard must be activated by the Governor to conduct disaster related emergency work. This would include the activation of National Guardsmen who are on furlough (dual status technicians).
“Under a Presidential disaster declaration, FEMA reimburses the State (Grantee), subject to the State cost-share, for costs in excess of those incurred for weekend drills and annual training and other non-disaster related activations.”
Again, thank you for your letter in support of our ongoing efforts to define and explore alternatives.