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FEMA decision means Missouri's share of Joplin cleanup costs goes up

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Aug. 4, 2011 - The federal government has denied Gov. Jay Nixon's request to extend the Expedited Debris Removal Program, in which the federal government pays 90 percent of the cost of debris removal through next Sunday -- the 75th day after a tornado ravaged the city of Joplin, Mo., killing more than 150 people.

As a result of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's decision, as of next Monday, the federal share of the costs drops to 75 percent -- dramatically increasing the costs for the state of Missouri, which is footing the rest of the bill.

Nixon had sought an extension to Aug. 31. He plans to address the issue later today in Joplin.

Said the governor in a statement Wednesday evening: "I am extremely disappointed by the federal government's denial of our request for an extension of the Expedited Debris Removal Program. This decision by FEMA dramatically increases the cost burden on state and local governments as we continue our efforts to complete this vital mission.

"That being said, make no mistake: The state of Missouri will continue to stand with the people of Joplin throughout this process," the governor added. "Together, we will complete this critical work and rebuild this vibrant community."

Nixon had asked for the extension on July 26, noting at the time that more than 1.1 million cubic yards of debris had been removed.

FEMA, like many federal agencies, has been facing budget constraints. In FEMA's case, the money problems stem in part from the flurry of natural disasters.

However, Nixon's staff noted that the letter from FEMA -- released this afternoon by the governor's staff -- didn't mention financial constraints as the reason for its denial.

Meanwhile, Missouri's two senators -- Democrat Claire McCaskill and Republican Roy Blunt -- lamented FEMA's action, as did the region's congressman, Republican Billy Long.

In a joint statement, the trio said, ""This is disappointing. Local and state government have worked hard to remove historic levels of destruction with the goal of finishing before the August 7th deadline. The people of Joplin have faced extremely difficult challenges over the last several months and need to be afforded as much flexibility in their clean-up process as possible. We will continue to work in tandem with the Governor on a path forward that supports the resilient people of Joplin."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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