Florida sitting on millions of federal dollars intended for Irma-damaged homes

8 On Your Side

TAMPA (WFLA) – We discovered the state is sitting on more than 650 million dollars from the feds to help Floridians rebuild after Hurricane Irma.

Some families have been waiting for more than two years for help. 8 On Your Side is digging into ‘Rebuild Florida,’ a state program that uses federal dollars to rebuild or replace homes destroyed by the storm.

There’s exposed insulation, leaks, and buckling floors at Kathleen Imhoff’s mobile home in Citrus County.

Imhoff was still putting up with Hurricane Irma’s impact until 8 On Your Side helped her cut through the red tape and get assistance from Rebuild Florida.

“I’ve come to the end of my rope a few times,” said Imhoff.

But the 58 year-old is not alone.

8 On Your Side discovered that more than 3,900 Floridians qualified to have their storm-damaged homes rebuilt or replaced.

But more than two years after the start of the program, less than one in ten projects have been completed.

8 On Your Side Investigative reporter Mahsa Saeidi asked Governor Ron DeSantis about the delay at a news conference in Tampa on Friday.

“I’ve been trying for the past week to understand why, if it’s coronavirus, if there’s a staffing issue,” said Saeidi.

“So, we were not happy with the pace of some of the hurricane relief money and that was one of the things when Dane Eagle took over I told him we need to speed it up,” said Gov. DeSantis. “You need to get the money out the door.”

Gov. DeSantis is hoping Dane Eagle, the newly appointed head of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) turns this program around.

For two weeks, DEO has declined to answer our questions on-camera. But released a statement on Wednesday.

Here’s the DEO’s full statement:

Hi Mahsa,

Thanks so much for following up.

There are multiple stages of disaster recovery. Immediately after a storm, the Department of Economic Opportunity’s role is to help private sector partners get back to business as quickly as possible. After immediate disaster recovery functions have been completed, such as supporting health and human services needs, debris removal, etc., the Department comes in to assist with long-term disaster recovery efforts, such as rebuilding homes.

In the summer of 2018, the state of Florida received $612,922,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) through the Community Development Block Grant – Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) program for Hurricane Irma, which impacted our state in September 2017. The grant agreement for an additional allocation of $157,676,745 was signed in September 2019. A few months later, in December 2019, HUD allocated an additional $38.6 million for Hurricane Irma-impacted communities, for a total allocation of $812,235,745.

DEO, in partnership with Hurricane Irma-impacted communities across the state, developed the federally-required State Action Plan, which serves as a guide for how the CDBG-DR funding will be administered. DEO allocated funding into five programs. You can view the breakdown of how much funding was allocated to each program on pages 87-88 of the approved State Action Plan. You can view more information about our Rebuild Florida programs by visiting www.RebuildFlorida.gov.

The CDBG-DR is designed to assist Floridians after other resources have been exhausted. The state of Florida has 6 years to utilize this funding. Currently, there are 16,280 completed registrations for the Rebuild Florida Housing Repair and Replacement Program for Hurricane Irma. Of these completed registrations, 8,310 Floridians impacted by the storm have completed their application with another 2,427 applications currently in the process of being completed. Additionally, 3,949 applications have been withdrawn from the Program, with 390 duplicate applications removed from the Program.

Of the 3,900 awards, more than 1,400 homes have been assigned to a Rebuild Florida contractor. There are 290 completed projects out of more than 3,900 awards to date, for the Rebuild Florida Housing Repair and Replacement Program for Hurricane Irma.

To further clarify the awarded amount, currently the Rebuild Florida program has awarded $163 million to just over 3,900 Florida families. The awards figure is a reflection of the value of services the Rebuild Florida program will provide to those 3,900 families for repair activities.

Regarding your question concerning Rebuild Florida staff, Rebuild Florida team members are stationed across the Hurricane Irma-impacted communities, with DEO’s Rebuild Florida staff headquartered in Tallahassee. Click here to view a copy of DEO’s organizational chart of employees who work on the Rebuild Florida team in Tallahassee.

In addition to DEO’s Rebuild Florida staff members based in Tallahassee, DEO’s implementation vendor for the Rebuild Florida Housing Repair and Replacement Program for Hurricane Irma, Innovative Emergency Management (IEM) has staff stationed at Rebuild Florida Centers strategically positioned in Hurricane Irma-impacted communities. Rebuild Florida Centers are physical locations designed to assist Program participants with the application process and to provide support throughout the multi-step Rebuild Florida Program designed to repair, replace or reconstruct your Hurricane Irma damaged home.

Click here for a list of Rebuild Florida centers. Please note that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all Rebuild Florida Centers remain closed to the public. However, Rebuild Florida Center staff members are dedicated to serving Rebuild Florida participants by providing virtual and curbside services.

Rebuild Florida remains committed to assisting homeowners who were affected by the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma.”

DEO says they have six years to spend the money and they’re “committed to assisting homeowners … affected by the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma…”

DEO is also the division that oversaw the state’s failed unemployment system. Despite the fact that Imhoff will have a new mobile home soon, she says the wait was just too long.

8 On Your Side will keep pushing to get this money released for homeowners.

Meantime, if you’re a Rebuild Florida applicant in need, send an email to Investigator Mahsa Saeidi at MSaeidi@WFLA.com

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