Dec. 13, 2003 – Briefings on flood-relief aid available to the territory through the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Public Assistance Program are scheduled on Wednesday for potential applicants on St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island.
The Public Assistance Program is for government departments and agencies and certain not-for-profit organizations which provide services to the public. The program does not provide assistance to individuals or families.
The Virgin Islands became eligible for FEMA assistance last Tuesday with the declaration by President Bush of a federal disaster in the territory in response to a request from Gov. Charles W. Turnbull for such a declaration.
In a release distributed Saturday afternoon, Brad Gair, federal coordinating officer for the disaster relief effort, emphasized that the disaster declaration for the Virgin Islands did not include individual assistance. He said FEMA and V.I. government officials have been getting telephone calls from residents seeking "federal assistance for damages to their homes or personal property. Unfortunately, that type of assistance is not available."
Days of incessant rain and the flooding, landslides and mudslides that resulted during the period Nov. 10-16 caused $25 million to $30 million in damage in the territory, according to Turnbull administration estimates. FEMA officials are scheduled to be in the territory in the coming week to conduct their own assessment of the disaster-related losses.
Bush in late November declared a federal disaster in Puerto Rico, where a number of lives were lost as a result of mudslides, flooding and other occurrences stemming from the same period of intense rain.
The briefing for St. Thomas and Water Island government and not-for-profit agency representatives is scheduled for 9 a.m. Wednesday at the public assistance office of the Office of Management and Budget in Berne's Alley in downtown Charlotte Amalie.
The briefing for such representatives on St. John is set for 2 p.m. Wednesday, also at the OMB public assistance office on St. Thomas.
A briefing for St. Croix representatives was held Thursday at the V.I. Territorial Management Agency offices on St. Croix.
Turnbull has designated OMB director Ira Mills as his authorized representative for the FEMA Public Assistance Program. It is Mills' assignment to represent the territory in interactions with Brad Gair, the federal coordinating officer for the Virgin Islands disaster operations.
Mills said in a Government House release that the briefings are essential for public and not-for-profit agencies planning to seek FEMA aid for damages to facilities and the infrastructure as a result of flooding that occurred in the territory during the disaster period.
Representatives should take to the briefing "the Public Assistance Policy Guide or Policy Digest that was issued at the June 2003 annual public assistance workshop," Mills said.
Federal disaster assistance is intended to supplement local government recovery efforts. The president's declaration was for FEMA's basic formula of 75 percent federal funding matched by 25 percent local funding to address such things as debris removal and infrastructure damage — typically to roads and public utilities.
Federal officials have said that additional funding, also on a 75:25 match, would become available for what FEMA refers to as hazard mitigation measures — pre-emptive steps taken to reduce the likely extent of damage in future disasters. Such measures, including implementation of a beefed-up building code and flood-plain management, were a primary focus in the territory in the aftermath of Hurricanes Marilyn and Bertha.
FEMA's federal mandate allows for the federal government to provide up to 90 percent of funding match under certain circumstances. The territory received a 90 percent federal match in the federal disasters declared following Hurricanes Hugo, Marilyn and Bertha.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen said in a release issued on Wednesday that she had spoken with FEMA officials in Washington, D.C., and would be supporting the governor's request for 90:10 funding based on the territory's fiscal crisis. Christensen said then that FEMA was reviewing Turnbull's request.
Meanwhile, in response to concerns about a lack of money to repair damage to the territory's roads, the Public Finance Authority is seeking $5 million more than the planned $270 million in an upcoming bond offering.
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