Wilma victims to get HUD aid

Published July 27, 2006

The Housing and Urban Development Department has approved Florida's plan to use nearly $83-million in disaster relief funds to help residents affected by Hurricane Wilma.

The state will use at least 70 percent of the money to refurbish and rebuild homes, Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings said Wednesday in a conference call from HUD's offices in Washington.

The plan is to use the money to restore affordable housing. Jennings said the best way to do that will be to "restore and refurbish and harden those homes that have been damaged in a way that they could sustain additional storms."

The 2005 Recovery Initiative Action Plan will be rolled out in two tiers. The five hardest-hit counties - Broward, Hendry, Miami-Dade, Monroe and Palm Beach - will draw from the funds first. Six other counties with significant damage - Collier, Glades, Lee, Martin, Okeechobee and St. Lucie - will get the rest.

"Florida has established a great plan," said HUD Assistant Secretary Pamela Patenaude. "We're confident Florida will put this money to use immediately."

Jennings said she's hopeful the money will be distributed to those in need soon.

"Our idea is to push the money down (to the counties) as soon as possible," she said.

Besides Florida, four states - Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama - received part of $11.5-billion that Congress allocated to help areas needing assistance after last year's active hurricane season. Most of the money went to Louisiana and Mississippi, the states hardest hit by Hurricane Katrina.

To determine how to split the $11.5-billion, HUD used data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on individuals registered for assistance, the Small Business Association Disaster Loan Program, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and remote sensing data on areas that likely had damage.

A second installment of $5.2-billion has been approved to help the same five states cover unfulfilled needs after the planned usages of the first disbursement. Louisiana will receive $4.2-billion from that, and the rest will be doled out to the other states.

Marlon A. Walker can be reached at (727) 893-8737 or mwalker@sptimes.com.