A bill that gets Palm Beach County out of most of a $3.28 million federal tab for hurricane cleanup has passed the U.S. House and is on its way to the Senate, U.S. Rep Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, said late Monday.
The amount owed by the county government, and other local entities within the county, totals $14.1 million of the total $35 million owed by entities in Florida, Frankel said.
Potentially off the hook besides the county: the cities of Boca Raton: ($4.7 million), Lake Worth ($3.8 million) and Palm Beach Gardens ($351,000); and Jupiter Christian School ($90,000.)
The Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Florida Division of Emergency Management had given more than $120 million to the county to help recover from 2004’s hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, and 2008’s Tropical Storm Fay. The Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, of which FEMA is a part, later did an audit, leading to the calls for repayments.
In January, Palm Beach County Commissioners agreed to give back $341,858 of the $3.28 million and appeal the rest.
The current legislation, introduced in the House by Frankel, who was West Palm Beach mayor from 2003 to 2011, gives the feds a 3-year window to recoup claims, except in cases of fraud.
“This provision will give FEMA the necessary time to review grant awards while providing certainty for communities so they can plan their budgets accordingly,” Frankel said in a release. It quotes Palm Beach County Mayor Mary Lou Berger as saying. “It is unconscionable for FEMA to propose de-obligating previously awarded disaster funds for projects that have been certified complete by the State.”