FEMA designates Meade County sinkhole victims ineligible for assistance
MEADE COUNTY, S.D. — Sen. Mike Rounds has received word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or (FEMA) that they will not be able to provide assistance to those in Meade County that were affected by the sinkholes that appeared on April 27.
FEMA, a part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, released a statement that expanded on earlier discussions of Meade County, and the State of South Dakota applying for a mitigation grant through the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP).
According to the release, the purpose of the program is to ” reduce the loss of life and property due to natural disasters”. Under the program, the State of South Dakota receives a lump sum of grant money from FEMA. The amount of assistance is based on a percentage of grant funding from a previously declared disaster. The state will then select and prioritize projects based on project viability as well the state’s mitigation priorities.
Since the early talks of receiving a grant from the HMGP, multiple developments have come to fruition that indicate the application in the program is not appropriate and therefore would make Meade County victims not be eligible for assistance.
FEMA gave multiple reasons as to why the application would not be eligible to receive aid such as:
- An unresolved determination about whether the circumstances can be considered a ‘natural event’
- Information has come to light that this is not a natural event, and therefore the project would be ineligible for HMGP funding
- FEMA regulation requires that “funds are not available where an applicant, sub-applicant,other project participant, or third party’s negligence or intentional actions contributed to the
conditions to be mitigated.”
- The pending lawsuit makes a legal assertion that the sinkhole was the result of negligence.
- FEMA funding an acquisition project would be contrary to the Stafford Act § 312 and federal regulation where negligence contributed to the conditions necessitating the project, so even though the State and Meade County are no longer named in the lawsuit, regulations are clear that funding is not available if any negligence contributed to the conditions to be mitigated.
- 44 C.F.R. 80.9(d) requires project participants suspecting negligence or other tortious conduct to take all reasonable steps to pursue recovery. Accordingly, FEMA must consider whether there are benefits available, to include legal awards, for the same purpose as the acquisition grant for all homeowners. Under the present circumstances, FEMA would consider amounts available under the litigation from any party (County, State, and/or third party)—settlement or judgment, to be benefits available to all homeowners for the same purpose as the grant, and therefore must not only be pursued, but cannot be duplicated.
- Federal funds cannot be used to duplicate benefits from insurance or any other source available for the same purpose. Stafford Act § 312 and 44 C.F.R. § 80.9(c).
- There has been a question about whether an HMGP application could proceed simultaneously with the lawsuit. This approach would undermine the application and intent of 44 C.F.R. § 80.9.
FEMA ended the release saying, “In light of the unresolved issues regarding whether this is a natural event, the likelihood of negligence, and the duplication of federal benefits, FEMA cannot give consideration to an HMGP application for an acquisition project from the State and Meade County at this time.
You can view the full release below.