In a sharply-worded letter to U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, the head of the Florida Division of Emergency Management calls into question his conclusion that the federal budget cuts to the Florida National Guard could be offset with the swipe of a pen by the governor.
Some background: Gov. Rick Scott suggested in a letter to Nelson that he work with the Obama administration to halt the forced furlough on the technical full-time staff of the Florida National Guard during hurricane season. Nelson responded that the governor could order the guard into action, despite the federally forced furloughs, and get full reimbursement from FEMA.
Now Bryan Koon, head of the Florida Division of Emergency Action, pens a letter to Nelson and suggests that's wishful thinking:
"To summarize, the claim that the federal government will cover the increased costs associated with sequestration would set precedent, and most likely would not occur,'' he wrote, noting that the state only recently received full reimbursment for expenses from Hurricane Andrew -- 21 years ago.
Koon argued that the state must first deploy its national guard troops before it requests a disaster declaration and that would not be likely reimbursed. No word yet back from Nelson.
Here's the text of the letter: Download FDEM Letter to Senator Bill Nelson 6.11.13
Senator Bill Nelson
United States Senate
716 Senate Hart Office Bldg
Washington, DC 20510
Dear Senator Nelson,
I am writing in response to your June 7th letter to the Governor’s request that you work with the relevant federal agencies to allow the Florida National Guard to mitigate the impacts of the federal budget sequestration by making budget reductions that do not impact storm response capabilities. With only a few days into the storm season this year, Tropical Storm Andrea has already impacted Florida communities, which further underscores the importance of providing our men and women with the support they need to protect families.
Unfortunately, under the current budget sequestration that was crafted by the Administration, our Guard leadership continues to lack the flexibility needed to function properly in times of crisis. In your letter, it says you worked with FEMA and/or the Administration to make the case on why your federal office does not need to address the federally forced furloughing of Florida guardsmen or technicians. Our staff at the Division of Emergency Management, however, has reviewed the claim that "the state’s costs, including the costs to recall any furloughed guardsmen, will be fully reimbursable by FEMA," and it runs counter to historical examples.
- First, there has to be a Presidential Declaration before FEMA can even start to reimburse Florida taxpayers for any funds expended. Often states have to begin to deploy and preposition assets in the run up to a storm, well before a Presidential disaster declaration is issued.
- Secondly, as you know from your years in Washington, rarely do states receive 100 percent reimbursement. At best, Florida families could expect to pay for 25 percent of the bill in accordance with federal disaster cost-share formulas. In fact, despite Hurricane Andrew’s devastation in 1992, the State of Florida just finalized payments last year and FEMA was still requesting pay backs from the Florida National Guard.
- Third, there’s a strong possibility that the federal government would not agree to pay Florida taxpayers for the additional two days guardsmen will have to activate in order to address the bottle neck of work resulting from furloughs. This concern is based, again, on the fact that our state must preposition and deploy assets well before a storm makes landfall.
To summarize, the claim that the federal government will cover the increased costs associated with sequestration would set precedent, and most likely would not occur. Again, I stress the Governor’s offer to provide you counsel from our state budget experts who continue work on avenues that will provide savings to the federal government without jeopardizing public safety.
Bryan Koon, Director
Florida Division of Emergency Management