EATONTOWN, N.J. — After Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey in October 2012, thousands of volunteers from across the nation came to the state to help affected shore towns.
That help was sorely needed and greatly appreciated by residents of these stricken communities. But the volunteers’ work had an additional benefit – these municipalities can receive credit for the hours put in by volunteers that translates into dollars saved on the costs of recovery – and that credit can be substantial.
FEMA reimburses municipalities as much as 90 percent of the cost associated with disaster recovery projects including debris removal, repair, and reconstruction of public facilities. The communities are responsible for the remainder. However, they can apply the volunteer hours/cost of labor to their share of the overall project cost, which can lead to substantial savings for taxpayers.
Enacted in 2007 and revised in February 2014, FEMA Disaster Assistance Policy 9525.2 allows towns to offset their share of eligible costs with volunteered and donated resources, provided that they keep records of volunteers’ hours worked and duties performed and equivalent information for equipment and materials.
Eighty-seven percent of New Jersey’s non-police public safety workers (firefighters, EMTs, paramedics) are volunteers, the highest rate in the United States.
More than 250,000 volunteers came to the Jersey Shore to help towns and residents clean up, saving the state over 64 million dollars through their volunteer labor.
They fought fires, distributed meals to displaced survivors, set up and staffed emergency shelters, removed debris, prepared and dropped sand bags, and performed search-and-rescue operations and safety inspections, among other duties. They have contributed more than 2.5 million man-hours statewide.
To calculate what the volunteered labor and equipment would have cost, FEMA consulted with the New Jersey Department of Labor to determine the market value for jobs performed on site, including volunteer equipment operators. Donated equipment was valued according to FEMA’s “Schedule of Equipment Rates” unless it is included in a reimbursed equipment rate, in which case it does not count toward the credit. The cost of materials such as sand, dirt, rocks and other materials used to fight floods was set at the commercial rate at the time the work was done. The total amount of expenses for the project is multiplied by .111, which is the percentage of the non-Federal cost share (10 percent) divided by the Federal cost share percentage (90 percent), to get the maximum credit allowed for donated resources.
The credit is deducted from each town’s out-of-pocket obligation after its bills have been paid off and/or mitigated. At present, Union Beach is expecting a credit of approximately $700,000 for volunteer work and donated supplies, a number that will increase if more records are turned in. It is anticipated that Union Beach’s final credit amount will completely cover its 10 percent share of storm-related costs, which could total approximately $9 million. Sea Bright is currently eligible for a credit of more than $450,000. Lakewood Township has been approved for $31,000 of a potential $165,000, while Keyport is eligible for up to $158,000 and has been obligated for more than $21,000 in credits for volunteer efforts.
The policy puts the responsibility on the municipalities to keep track of the volunteer resources used, and those volunteer contributions must be carefully documented. FEMA has its own tracking forms and instructions, and the Volunteer and Donations Management Support Annex provides federal support and recommendations to state, tribal and local governments for managing donated resources.
There are restrictions on what work qualifies for the credit. All work eligible for credit must be done on public property or must benefit the public in some tangible manner, such as distributing food and supplies. Work done for private homeowners is not eligible. For emergency services, only response time is eligible for reimbursement. Donations from other federal agencies cannot be applied.
Also, the amount credited cannot exceed the 10 percent of the incident’s cost that the applicant is responsible for. Any excess credit can only be applied to other emergency projects being handled by that applicant.
Volunteers are still coming to the Jersey Shore to help with relief efforts. The work and time they put in helps restore those communities in more ways than one.
FEMA’s mission is to support our citizens and first responders to ensure that as a nation we work together to build, sustain, and improve our capability to prepare for, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate all hazards.
To help Highlands, if you volunteered CLICK HERE and add your information on the list. If you would rather email your information, please copy the information from the form and email it to either email@example.com OR firstname.lastname@example.org Please use HIGHLANDS VOLUNTEER HOURS in the subject line.