Neal Dunn, Darren Soto Team Up on FEMA Loan Interest Payment Relief Act

Two members of the Florida delegation–Republican U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn and Democrat U.S. Rep. Darren Soto–teamed up on the “FEMA Loan Interest Payment Relief Act” at the end of last week.

On Friday, Dunn introduced the proposal which will “reimburse local governments and electric cooperatives for interest incurred on loans used to restore essential functions after natural disasters since the “interest paid on emergency loans is often a cost passed on to taxpayers and ratepayers alike.”

Dunn pointed to Hurricane Michael, which hit the Panhandle and Big Bend two years ago,  as one of the reasons why he introduced the bill, noting the two-electric co-ops in the region suffered “nearly 100 percent destruction” and FEMA funds helped them restore services.

“In Florida’s Second Congressional District, our local governments and electric cooperatives have waited years for full reimbursement of Hurricane Michael related costs from FEMA. Local governments and electric co-ops take out loans to restore services; however, while they are waiting for the funding, they incur interest. These interest payments are costing them millions of dollars. We can’t have them on the hook for that,” said Dunn. “I also believe that this will incentivize the federal government to obligate these funds in a timelier manner moving forward.”

“States and municipalities rely on FEMA to rebuild and recover after a disaster strikes. As Central Floridians continue to struggle to get back on their feet from recent hurricanes, we simply cannot expect local governments and electric cooperatives to pay millions of dollars in loan interest they incurred while waiting for federal assistance. It must be reimbursed by FEMA,” said Soto.

The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association threw its support behind the proposal.

“As electric cooperatives across the nation work to recover from devastation caused by hurricanes, wildfires, winter storms and other natural disasters, they frequently rely on FEMA funding to turn the lights back on as quickly and safely as possible.  This important legislation will make a meaningful difference in the ability of not-for-profit electric co-ops to pay for recovery efforts by allowing additional costs incurred during recovery to be reimbursed by FEMA. Congressmen Dunn and Soto recognize the crucial role that electric cooperatives play in their communities and America’s electric cooperatives thank them for easing the rebuilding process after Mother Nature strikes,” said Jim Matheson, the CEO of National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

“We brought in over 1,600 utility workers to help rebuild our system, costing us $84 million in emergency loans and $3.2 million in interest so far – nearly $200 per member for interest alone.  This legislation will bring much-needed relief to our consumer-members continuing to rebuild from Hurricane Michael while we continue to struggle through a pandemic.,” said John Bartley, the CEO and general manager of Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative.

Leaders from the West Florida Electric Cooperative and the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association are also behind the bill.

Dunn’s bill was sent to the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Friday. So far, there is no companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

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