WLOX-TV Biloxi

Congressional leaders to FEMA: De-obligation of millions is ‘unacceptable’

By WLOX Staff

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Mississippi lawmakers sent a letter to FEMA last week decrying the emergency agency’s decision to deny millions of dollars to Biloxi.

Senators Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith, along with and Representatives Steven Palazzo from the coast and the Delta’s Benny Thompson, all notified FEMA that the decision to retroactively deny $15.5 million in infrastructure funding for Biloxi is “unacceptable” and should be reversed.

The letter, which was dated Sept. 13, 2019, noted that the FEMA decision to de-obligate $8.8 million that was already approved and spent nearly ten years ago is "statutorily prohibited,” echoing a MEMA assessment of the issue.

In 2018, FEMA de-obligated $8.8 million in project management expenses the agency had previously approved and even helped provide after Katrina. Additionally, FEMA denied Biloxi’s request for $6.7 million in funding to complete an ongoing reconstruction project that is estimated to take until December 2024 to complete.

The letter, which was dated Sept. 13, 2019, said the State of Mississippi agrees with Biloxi, supporting the recommendation made last month by MEMA to appeal FEMA's decision. The elected officials also said FEMA should change course on its decision to disallow $6.7 million in previously-approved funding, pleading on behalf of the Gulf Coast, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“The City of Biloxi and the people in that community are still recovering nearly 15 years after Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast,” states the letter. “Recovery would not be and is not possible without the resources of the federal government and the hard work and dedication from FEMA and its staff. We believe the decision to de-obligate $8.8 million in already allocated funds and to disallow the $6.7 million... is unacceptable, and it should be reversed.”

Biloxi's mayor released a statement Tuesday, thanking the congressional delegation for supporting the city's recovery.

“We certainly appreciate this strongly-worded, bi-partisan show of support,” said Mayor Andrew “FoFo” Gilich in a statement. “We are certainly appreciative of the tremendous amount of support from FEMA in our rebuilding efforts, but we also expect fair treatment. The senators, the representatives, and the state of Mississippi all now agree: This is wrong and it needs to be made right.”

Gilich said the city’s legislative liaison Keith Heard, legal adviser Gerald Blessey, and city councilman Felix Gines worked with the state’s Washington delegation to help explain the city’s position.

The letter from the delegation is in support of Biloxi’s second appeal of the FEMA decisions. The city is also contesting the action in court.

“We encourage FEMA to change course on this matter and grant the City of Biloxi’s second appeal," stated the letter. "We appreciate your attention to this matter and will follow your progress closely.”

To read the letter in full, click HERE.

To read the Office of Inspector General’s 2015 report to FEMA concerning grant funding awarded to the City of Biloxi, click HERE.