Good news for our district

Published 8:00 pm Monday, March 7, 2005

By Staff
By the time Hurricane Ivan had blown through south Alabama in September 2004, the First District had taken a terrible beating. Some homes and businesses were completely destroyed. Timber, cotton, pecans and many other important agricultural crops were devastated. The lives of thousands of men, women and children were changed forever.
While it was difficult to put into words the true devastation and heartbreak I saw as I traveled through the district in the days following the storm, the true toll of the storm really hit home when the losses were translated into the bottom line-the dollar figure attached to the storm and the destruction it left in its wake.
The Federal Emergency Management (FEMA), the Small Business Administration (SBA), and private insurance companies certainly did a tremendous job in helping individuals cope with the financial burden placed on them and their families as a result of the storm. These agencies were already hard pressed to respond quickly, as they were continuing to deal with other hurricanes, which had recently blown through the Gulf Coast. However, despite these obstacles, several agencies established disaster assistance and claim centers throughout south Alabama within hours of the storm. Each worked to ensure the money started flowing as soon as possible to the families who needed it most.
Unfortunately, the road traveled by the men and women of our local governments-the mayors and city councilmen, the police and fire chiefs, and the emergency coordinators-was much more difficult. For the past several months, it has been unclear how much money in public assistance would be available to the cities and towns most devastated by the hurricane.
For a while, it was difficult to determine how much funding was available-some had heard the federal government would only cover 75 percent of the costs associated with repairing damage to infrastructure and for debris removal. Some reported that officials in Washington determined there would be 100 percent coverage. The bottom line was that there was no consistent answer.
On March 2, the waiting ended. FEMA announced that President Bush authorized federal funding to cover 90 percent of all categories of assistance under the Public Assistance Program, in the aftermath of Hurricane Ivan.
What's more, this authorization was retroactive to Sep. 14, 2004, when the disaster declaration for Alabama was first announced by the president.
For those who may not be aware, the Public Assistance Program covers reimbursement to state and local government entities for the following categories: debris removal and emergency protective measures; and permanent work on roads and bridges, water control facilities, buildings and equipment, utilities, and parks and recreation facilities. It is important to note that this announcement does not pertain to any costs associated with the Hazard Mitigation Program or for losses suffered by individuals, their families, or private businesses.
Gov. Bob Riley and his staff deserve a tremendous "thank you" for never giving up on seeking an increase in the percentage of costs covered by the federal government. In the end, no one person could do this alone, and the strong effort and teamwork displayed by everyone at the local, state, and federal level made this outcome possible.
I am hopeful that as the cleanup continues and the First District moves further into its period of rebuilding and recovery, the great news out of the White House and FEMA will at long last allow us to put Hurricane Ivan behind us.
Jo Bonner represents Escambia County in hte U.S. House of Representatives.
Town meetings set for March
I am pleased to announce that my staff and I have scheduled an upcoming series of town meetings later this month. These meetings are scheduled to begin on Monday, March 21, and will continue through Thursday, March 24.
We will be in Escanmia County on Monday, March 21, 2005, in the following locations: