No disaster is alike and each one presents new challenges and outcomes. We’ve all heard stories about disaster-impacted communities that were destroyed or came to near ruin because they didn’t have the resources to manage a disaster. Quite often, unfortunately, it comes down to the reality that they didn’t know what they didn’t know.
EM Managers, appointed and elected officials have a legal responsibility to not only help safeguard their communities but to posture them to recover stronger and better after a disaster, which promotes community confidence, thereby protecting the economic tax base.
At CDR Maguire, we’ve worked with many clients at the local and state levels through countless disasters and we strive to make each client better and stronger than we found them. Our goal is to maximize your recovery when we’re brought on to provide disaster financial recovery services by fighting for every dollar due to you as an applicant. And while each disaster may pose new challenges, we’ve identified from years of experience, the most common pitfalls clients make that affect their Public Assistance (PA) reimbursement which include the following:
Not Establishing Legal Authorities and Agreements
An area that many applicants find themselves in that often stalls or negates FEMA reimbursement is not having defined legal authority to conduct emergency and permanent work under the PA Program.
Consider the following issues that frequently pose challenges to applicants:
- You’re a coastal community and your beaches and dunes are impacted. Have you established and defined legal authority to conduct disaster repairs in ordinances and interlocal agreements? Do you have a defined maintenance program to substantiate your legal responsibility?
- Does your jurisdiction define legal responsibility for conducting debris removal on Right-of-Ways and private property to protect lives and improved property?
- Your jurisdiction owns a facility but leases that facility to another entity. Do you have defined agreements or contracts that address who bears the legal responsibility for conducting those disaster repairs?
Not Maintaining Your Insurance Commitments
FEMA may require an insurance commitment for facilities or structures they’ve provided reimbursement for under the PA Program. If insurance commitments are imposed, ensure that your policies haven’t lapsed that could hinder or negate FEMA funding and ensure that the proper coverage for that facility/structure is in place.
Lack of Financial Policies/Procedures
Do we have a process for that? This can be a costly question in terms of time and money. It can’t be overstated that the lack of financial procedures/policies in both a pre and post-disaster environment cannot only significantly impede the PA reimbursement process, resulting in funding delays, but in some cases, it can negate your reimbursement if you didn’t follow your own policies and procedures. It’s important to define your process in both a day-to-day environment and under emergency circumstances so you’re following your established process. It’s especially important to have financial policies and procedures in place to address the tracking of expenditures and supporting documentation, the coding of projects and expenses to the disaster, and time and resource tracking to support your disaster costs.
Emergency Pay Policies
Another area that can affect your reimbursement is not having emergency pay policies to define how OT is applied. Be sure to address Fire/EMS, collective bargaining agreements and other types of pay policies that address OT requirements, shift differentials, premium pay, etc.
Are your contracts 2 CFR Part 200 compliant? Failure to comply with this federal regulation could result in denied reimbursement by FEMA even if the work is an eligible cost. Contracts may need to be put out for re-bid under the 2 CFR requirements to ensure compliance.
Just the Facts
Let’s face it, during and after a disaster, documentation requirements exponentially increase and we find ourselves immersed in the painstaking tasks of completing all the necessary forms to justify costs, document operations, etc. It’s been our experience that many clients recovering from a disaster have a hard time extracting relevant data from disaster documentation because it’s either been inadequately completed or not completed at all. Too often during a disaster, people have little time to complete so many forms, especially with the degree of detail often needed, and important information is lost as a result. At CDR Maguire, we believe the best way to support our clients is to address any areas for improvement or deficiencies pre-disaster and help our clients develop efficient processes and documents that meet their needs. For example, our CDR team has supported many clients with streamlining their ICS 214 forms, timesheets, and daily activity reports so that the proper degree of detail is captured. By creating forms that are user-friendly and capture relevant information, it minimizes potential errors and highlights important information that could support reimbursement in a declared disaster.
Not Coding Your Disaster Related Expenses
Do you have a financial process in place for coding your disaster-related expenses such as labor, equipment, contracts, rental equipment, and materials? By coding your disaster-related expenses, this streamlines the review and validation process it requires for FEMA reimbursement and provides an audit trail should you be required to undergo one down the road.
Not Leveraging Your Donated Resources
Applicants frequently leave considerable money on the table by not tracking and documenting their donated resources which can include personnel, equipment, and materials. The value of these resources translates into in-kind contributions that can be used towards the applicant’s non-federal share for Public Assistance grants.
Not Having an Approved Debris Management Plan in Place Prior to a Disaster
Did you know that having a FEMA approved Debris Management Plan in place before a disaster can result in a one-time 2% cost incentive for debris costs?
Stop Leaving Money on the Table
Is it eligible? Can I document this expense? Frequently, applicants may question whether or not a cost is reimbursable under the PA Program, and therefore don’t seek reimbursement which can hinder a community’s recovery. Or, in many cases, an applicant may incur an expense, but can’t produce the documentation to substantiate the cost, thereby forfeiting the associated reimbursement. Having a financial process in place prior to a disaster not only helps streamline the reimbursement process but also ensures that costs will be documented properly, to support project obligation and closeout.
Not Tracking Your Direct and Indirect Administrative Costs
Do you have a process in place for tracking both your indirect and direct administrative costs (DAC)? These are reimbursable costs under the PA Program that many applicants often forfeit because of the administrative burden of tracking and documenting these costs.
By Misty Berryman