A number of Counties I’ve talked with have been curious on why regular time forced labor was allowed for Hurricane Sandy debris management operations. The answer is that Congress changed the Stafford Act for Debris Removal Assistance to reduce the administration time and expense for Public Assistance grants.
After Hurricane Sandy hit back in November, FEMA issued a revised rule to allow reimbursement for the straight time (or regular time) salaries of local government employees who perform debris management duties for Hurricane Sandy. Up until this ruling, only overtime was reimbursable.
The good news for local governments is that the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013, which became law last January, changed the Stafford Act to make this rule permanent for all disasters. It also added other debris-removal-related authorities for FEMA under an “Alternative Procedure for Debris Removal Assistance” including:
- Providing grants based on estimates versus actual costs, which will accelerate grant fund distribution.
- Providing cost-share incentives to local governments reduce the time it takes to remove debris
- Providing cost-share incentives to local governments who have an approved debris management plan.
- Allowing debris to be recycled without reducing the award amount by the proceeds
FEMA has not yet published details on how they plan to administer the new debris authorities. However, some information can be gleaned from a FEMA issued Fact Sheet from the November ruling. It states that:
“The applicant must document all costs related to the work performed, to include the specific activities performed by the force account labor, rates, and the volume of debris removed. Documentation should differentiate between overtime and straight- or regular-time work and costs.”
What is still unclear is some of the details. For instance:
- How will debris management costs be estimated under the new procedures?
- How will the differences between the estimated costs and actual costs be applied?
- How will the cost-share incentives be applied?
- What documentation is acceptable for debris volume?
- What documentation is needed to show where the debris originated?
I expect that FEMA will issue new fact sheets or rulings to clarify these details soon. But, all in all, these Stafford Act changes will benefit local governments in getting more of their disaster-related expenses paid more quickly.