Program popularity causes funding delay

Published 5:00 am Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Applicants for a state program to build “safe rooms” to protectthem from the ravages of high winds will have to wait a littlelonger to learn how much money they will be reimbursed for buildingthe shelters, officials said.

Lea Stokes, a Mississippi Emergency Management Agencyspokeswoman, said “there was a very large number of applicants” tothe program and the funding provided simply was not adequate tomeet those needs.

“It had never been this popular before,” she said. “We hadnearly 10,000 applications.”

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The “Safe Room” program is designed to reimburse up to 75percent of eligible costs to property owners for the constructionof safe rooms or storm shelters to protect against the dangersposed by extreme winds.

The maximum federal share awarded to any eligible programparticipant is $3,500 for residential structures and $5,000 forcommunity shelters.

MEMA announced in mid-January that $6.6 million had been madeavailable to protect Mississippians against tornadoes and otherstorms. It was largest appropriation ever made into the program andeasily eclipsed the $4.6 million that had been put into it sinceits inception in 2001.

A participation drive, which began in February, brought in farmore applications than expected, Stokes said.

Lincoln County Civil Defense Director Clifford Galey said themoney would be to distributed by county, with each applicant in thecounty sharing equally in the funds.

In Lincoln County, where more than 100 participants areeligible, that means a reimbursement of only approximately $200 atcurrent levels, he said.

Stokes said the low reimbursement return is why MEMA placed ahold on the program until it can explore other options to improvethe amount of the reimbursement.

Executives from several state agencies who received federalhazard mitigation funds will be meeting soon to examine how thatmoney will be distributed. MEMA hopes to persuade them to funnelsome additional funding to the Safe Room program, she said.

“We need to at least come close to doubling it for people to geta good reimbursement,” Stokes said. “We know there would not be alot of participation in the program for a $200 reimbursement.”

Stokes could not say when the safe room program would be able todistribute reimbursements to its participants.

“Hopefully, in a month or two we’ll be able to give out somemoney,” Stokes said.