FEMA funding freeze could affect Joplin, other Missouri communities

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 | 3:59 p.m. CDT; updated 8:17 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, August 31, 2011

ST. LOUIS — Disaster-struck communities counting on federal aid for recovery need to know which rebuilding projects will be delayed as money is shifted to other parts of the country, Gov. Jay Nixon told the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Wednesday.

FEMA announced earlier this week that it was freezing some disaster aid to Missouri and the South so it could provide immediate help on the East Coast after Hurricane Irene. With the agency's disaster fund at less than $1 billion, FEMA also said it was holding some money back to respond to any additional natural disasters this year.

Victims of the May tornado that killed 160 people in Joplin and other disasters will continue to get individual aid for such things as temporary housing and debris removal, the agency said. But help with long-term rebuilding projects has been placed on hold until Congress allocates more money to the disaster fund.

The announcement created confusion and concern in Joplin and other Missouri communities damaged by widespread flooding from the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

Those areas are counting on "significant support from the federal government" and "need certainty and clarity about the federal resources that will be available," Nixon said in his letter to FEMA.

Nixon asked FEMA for details on which projects would be affected immediately by the funding freeze, which ones could be affected down the road and which ones wouldn't be affected at all.

FEMA spokesman Bob Josephson said the letter is being reviewed and that the agency will respond to the governor in a timely manner.

FEMA's cash crunch comes as hurricane season is just getting fired up, FEMA administrator William Fugate told reporters Monday. There needs to be money available to respond to whatever disaster comes next.

"Going into September being the peak part of hurricane season, and with Irene, we didn't want to get to the point where we would not have the funds to continue to support the previous impacted survivors as well as respond to the next disaster," Josephson said.

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