Understanding the FEMA Public Assistance Simplified Procedures Policy for small projects

Understanding the FEMA Public Assistance Simplified Procedures Policy for small projects
By Richard Starzak and Doug White
Jan 27, 2023
How to stay compliant and reduce the risk of fund de-obligation under the new policy

In August 2022, FEMA increased the threshold for small projects under the Public Assistance (PA) program from $150,000 to $1 million. Following this change, FEMA released the Public Assistance Simplified Procedures Policy, which provides updated documentation requirements for small project applicants. The purpose of the policy is to help communities recover more quickly and support equitable delivery of assistance by reducing administrative responsibilities for applicants.

The policy only allows the applicant to certify that:

  • The damage and work to be performed are a direct cause of the declared disaster.
  • The work is delivered in an equitable manner.
  • The work complies with current codes and standards.
  • The work adheres to procurement and contracting requirements.
  • All costs are reasonable.
  • There is no duplication of benefits.
  • All documents are retained according to regulations.

The new policy aims to streamline the disaster recovery funding process, but there are still several important steps to follow to ensure compliance and prevent de-obligation of funds. Below are a few steps to keep in mind as you pursue small project funding through the PA program.

Detailed documentation must remain a priority

The simplified procedures should not be mistaken as a reason to ease up on documentation best practices. It is imperative that applicants follow documentation requirements because FEMA can de-obligate funds if requirements are not met. Remember, FEMA defines an applicant as, “a state, territory, tribe, local government, or certain type of private nonprofit organization” that is “submitting a request for assistance under the recipient's federal award.”

With the project threshold increased to $1 million, there is increased likelihood that FEMA or OIG will audit documentation records. Thus, applicants must continue to provide detailed information regarding the damage description and dimensions, scope of work, and cost estimate to include any applicable soft costs. As always, applicants are also encouraged to consider and implement hazard mitigation to reduce or eliminate future similar damages.

Double-check documentation requirements

The applicant must also check with the recipient’s documentation requirements as they may be more stringent than FEMA requirements. FEMA defines a recipient as, “the state, territorial, or tribal government that receives and manages the federal award under the disaster declaration and disburses funding to eligible subrecipients.” Appendix A of the simplified procedures provides clear instructions on all documentation that must be retained for any small project.

Keep Environmental and Historic Preservation (EHP) requirements in mind

In the weeks and months following a disaster, local emergency agencies are often focused on the safety of their communities and overlook important compliance measures. They may be eager to show recovery progress and fail to comply with requirements such as EHP reviews.

The new policy requires the applicant to identify and estimate costs for environmental and historic requirements before FEMA EHP does its review. However, this does not mean that construction can begin before a FEMA EHP review. FEMA retains its right to de-obligate funds if an applicant begins construction before FEMA EHP review or if the applicant cannot properly demonstrate EHP compliance.

We’ve seen many instances of FEMA de-obligating funds at closeout due to a lack of agency consultation or permit. Without a timely FEMA EHP review, applicants are at high risk of losing project funding. Additional information regarding EHP reviews can be found in the FEMA Public Assistance Appeals Database.

Learn more

Check out FEMA's latest news and webinars about these changes on their website.

Our experts assist state and local officials with complex disaster recovery projects and help clients reduce the risk of de-obligation of funds. Get in touch with us to learn more.

Meet the authors
  1. Richard Starzak, Vice President, Historic Preservation Specialist

    Richard is an expert in historic preservation with more than 35 years of experience.  View bio

  2. Doug White, Vice President, Disaster Management

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