[StBernard] LRA, GOHSEP Launch Program Aimed at Speeding Recovery Dollars to Local Communities

Westley Annis Westley at da-parish.com
Thu Feb 21 18:27:00 EST 2008

LRA, GOHSEP Launch Program Aimed at Speeding Recovery Dollars to Local Communities

State also commits to working with partners to hasten funds to first responders

BATON ROUGE, La - The state of Louisiana will reduce the wait time for local governments needing reimbursement for rebuilding projects through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Public Assistance Program, the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) and the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) announced today.

Known as the Express Pay System, the process will streamline payments to local governments and provide more rapid disbursements of funds.

"Just over 30-days after Governor Jindal charged the LRA and GOHSEP with streamlining the Public Assistance process we have delivered," said LRA Executive Director Paul Rainwater. "Not only have we found common sense ways to move dollars in a more efficient way, but we will be able to do so while maintaining accountability and transparency."

Currently, the payment process averages 45 - 60 days to make reimbursement to the applicant. The Express Pay System will allow applicants to submit a reimbursement request with the required supporting documentation and receive payment within 10 to 14 business days.

While the time period for reimbursements from the Public Assistance Program will be reduced, the State's internal controls, which must ensure that costs are allowable under federal law, are still in place. The Express Pay System has the support and backing of the Legislative Auditor and is being implemented to improve efficiencies in government. The program was also designed to aid businesses and contractors who bid on local rebuilding projects. Many contractors are small businesses, who may not have large capital reserves and are not able to wait long periods of time for payment on large government rebuilding projects.

Speeding the pace of payments will give local governments and their contractors' greater confidence that payments will meet timelines more familiar to local contractors.

"Long wait times for reimbursement doesn't just leave government leaders in a lurch, but it can prevent contractors from bidding on projects," Rainwater said. "This new payment process will align our reimbursements with traditional business practices."

FEMA's Public Assistance Program works with state and local governments and certain private non-profit organization to fund recovery measures such as rebuilding of buildings, roads, bridges and water and sewer plants.

"FEMA applauds Paul Rainwater and Mark Cooper on the Express Pay initiative. The fresh perspective and new ideas they are bringing to the recovery of Louisiana will undoubtedly benefit local governments. By providing the necessary advancement of already FEMA obligated funds, this will kick start permanent repairs to damaged buildings and infrastructure," said Acting Associate Deputy Administrator for FEMA's Gulf Coast Recovery Office Jim Stark. "FEMA remains committed to working with the State of Louisiana and local governments to fund all actual, eligible and reasonable costs on public assistance projects."

Project funds are obligated by FEMA through its Public Assistance Program .Once the funds are obligated by FEMA, the applicant must request reimbursement from GOHSEP for eligible work completed. Obligated funds may change over time as the project is often adjusted as bids come in and scope of work is aligned.

During his first day in office, Governor Bobby Jindal issued an Executive Order naming the Executive Director of the LRA, Paul Rainwater, as his authorized representative to FEMA's Public Assistance Program. The LRA is working in conjunction with GOHSEP and its federal partners to identify ways to streamline the Public Assistance process and improve efficiency.

There are checks and balances within the Express Pay System to ensure compliance within the FEMA Public Assistance Grant Program. The Express Pay System will involve an initial review of invoices and supporting documentation. After a satisfactory initial review, the invoices will be processed for payment. Simultaneously these documents will be forwarded to the appropriate disaster recovery specialist for a detailed review.

When the program goes into effect on March 3, 2008, applicants will automatically be eligible to participate in the program. Applicants wishing to continue participation will have to sign an Express Pay System Certification and return it to GOHSEP within 45 days. Through execution of the Express Pay System Certification, an applicant acknowledges the guidelines and agrees to comply with the conditions of the program. The Express Pay Certification can be found on the Louisiana Public Assistance Web site at http://www.louisianapa.com/ <http://www.louisianapa.com/> .

Currently the LRA and GOHSEP are working aggressively to reach out to local officials and other applicants in advance of the March 3rd launch of the Express Pay System through the Louisiana Public Assistance Web site, letters and individual meetings.

Focus on public safety

State agencies also announced today that they will be working with their federal partners to prioritize first responders and rapidly equip them with the critical infrastructure they need to provide basic safety needs to their communities. This effort has begun with fire stations involved in the Public Assistance process.

"We have identified that our first responders play a critical role to this recovery," said Mark Cooper, Director of GOHSEP, "The Express Pay System will be beneficial to our first responders to help them return these basic public safety needs, not just for recovery but also for preparedness measures."

In an effort to get fire stations back in working order in a timely manner several measures have been taken to speed needed resources to increase safety in hurricane-affected parishes. The parishes of Cameron, Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Bernard, St. Tammany and Vermilion have been identified as the parishes with the greatest dollars risk within the Public Assistance program.

These parishes have a total of $33 million obligated by FEMA for fire departments and they have requested only about a third of that amount. An aggressive outreach campaign is under way to identify and resolve road blocks such as cash flow issues, difficulties with paperwork, scope alignment or project worksheet issues.

The state is also working to secure additional funding sources to cover costs outside the scope of the FEMA Public Assistance program

Complete detailed information on the Express Pay System will be posted on the Louisiana Public Assistance web-site by February 28th, applicants of the FEMA Public Assistance program can log in to their accounts at http://www.louisianapa.com/ <http://www.louisianapa.com/>

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated South Louisiana, claiming 1,464 lives, destroying more than 200,000 homes and 18,000 businesses. The Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) is the planning and coordinating body that was created in the aftermath of these storms to lead one of the most extensive rebuilding efforts in the world. The LRA is a 33-member body which is coordinating across jurisdictions, supporting community recovery and resurgence, ensuring integrity and effectiveness, and planning for the recovery and rebuilding of Louisiana.

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