Oklahoma House of Representatives
Media DivisionApril 15, 2009
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
State Rep. Joe DormanCapitol: (405) 557-7305
Representatives Request Funding be Included for Disasters in Current Budget
OKLAHOMA CITY – Although state Rep. Joe Dorman’s resolution to ensure that Oklahoma meets all its obligations when natural disasters hit failed to receive a hearing in the House this year, he is continuing his fight for those funds.
In light of the recent winter storm – which some experts say was the second-worst blizzard in Oklahoma history – and recent wildfires, state Reps. Dorman and Gus Blackwell pointed out the importance of maintaining a full reserve fund to draw on following large-scale emergencies or a direct revenue stream.
Dorman’s original measure, House Joint Resolution 1018, would have directed that either spillover funds or interest accrued from the Constitutional Reserve Fund, also known as the Rainy Day Fund, be deposited in the State Emergency Fund within 30 days of FEMA certification of a request from the state for assistance. Money deposited in the State Emergency Fund is used to match federal disaster relief funds disbursed by FEMA. FEMA pays 75 percent of disaster repairs; the affected entity pays 12.5 percent, and the state is required to pay a 12.5 percent cost share.
"If the state does not provide matching funds in a timely manner, the affected communities essentially foot the bill while waiting for the state to make good on its obligations," said Dorman, D-Rush Springs. "If this does not come until years later, the state is not meeting its duty to assist its citizens."
HJR1018 did not receive a committee hearing this year due to concerns over Rainy Day Fund depletion. A similar bill by Dorman was killed last year in the Senate. Blackwell, who chairs the Rules Committee, held HJR 1018 to review further and work with Dorman to find an alternate funding system.
“I agree that we need to find some suitable direct funding system, but there is a concern by many leaders at the Capitol about tapping into any monies tied to the Rainy Day Fund,” said Blackwell, R-Goodwell. “I will be working with Representative Dorman to look at other alternatives over the summer and hopefully find a solution to include in this measure next session.”
“If we had passed this resolution, we could have laid the groundwork to save some money for a rainy – and snowy – day by putting spillover or interest monies into the emergency fund,” Dorman said. “I realized the battle would be uphill to get this specific policy passed, but I’m glad that Representative Blackwell and I are going to look at alternatives for a direct revenue stream for this funding for next year.”
Dorman said that the state has not met its prior obligations to match FEMA monies from previous emergency situations. Going back as far as 2007, the state has roughly 8,000 outstanding projects in 500 communities, with approximately $21 million in reimbursements still pending from that year alone. When the state does not have enough matching funds on hand, communities have to pay more than their share up front for rebuilding. This figure does not count the three disasters which have affected Oklahoma in 2009.
“Already Gov. Henry declared 50 counties in a state of emergency from this past snowstorm, and they will certainly qualify for FEMA funding with this most recent storm and certain fire damage. If the legislature does not fully appropriate damages for this year or the year before, in my opinion we have not balanced our budget and the legislature is violating the Oklahoma constitution,” Blackwell said.
According to Article X of the state constitution, lawmakers are required to pass a balanced budget each year. Reps. Dorman and Blackwell believe that since the state has not met its obligations to these communities, this is a violation of the balanced-budget requirement. “We lost six homes in my district this past week with the fires in two different communities,” said Dorman. “I’m still waiting on final estimates on acreage, damages and what will qualify for assistance and how we might help from the State Capitol.”
“My thoughts and prayers are with all the families and communities who suffered damage and blackouts from the recent snowstorm and fires,” Blackwell added. "Many of these folks are my neighbors and I witnessed how nature affected my home area of the state and the need for immediate help."
“I also have seen many natural disasters in and around my district over the years and know the need for urgency with assistance,” Dorman concluded. “We are obligated to allocate the 12.5 percent match of funds to reimburse them for repairs, and we’re letting disaster strike twice for these Oklahomans as costs continue to grow and existing local budgets are depleted by these repairs.”
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