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Districts Harmed by Hugo, Earthquake Failed To Receive

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Aid, G.A.O. Finds By Peter Schmidt

Washington--School districts hit by Hurricane Hugo and the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989 received disaster aid late or not at all due to a lack of coordination between the various federal and state agencies involved, the U.S. General Accounting Office has concluded.

A report submitted by the g.a.o. to the Congress last month said the failure of the Education Department, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and state agencies to coordinate their efforts "caused inconsistencies, duplication of effort, and confusion in paying for the repair of damaged schools" in states and territories hit by the natural disasters.

School districts in California and the Carolinas received no funds for up to eight months after the disasters, the report said.

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act directs fema to provide funds for the repair or reconstruction of schools and other public facilities damaged by a major disaster. Public Law 81-815, a 1950 federal act that also created the federal impact-aid program, permits the Education Department to provide federal subsidies to repair or reconstruct public-school facilities.

Neither act, however, addresses the division of authority between the two agencies, the gao report noted.

In California, the Education Department surveyed school damage within six weeks of the quake in Octo4ber 1989, but, thanks largely to a lack of agency coordination, the 45 districts eligible for aid did not receive approval of their claims totaling almost $10 million until June 1990. Payments were further delayed while the state considered enacting a special quarter-cent sales tax to cover the costs of the disaster.

As of October 1990, 14 districts had received about $3 million from the Education Department, and California had spent about $1 million of this amount, the report said.

Of the 48 districts in South Carolina and seven in North Carolina that applied for assistance from the Education Department following the hurricane in September 1989, none had received any funds as of October 1990.

In South Carolina, where schools suffered an estimated $24 million in damage, assistance from the Education Department was delayed while the federal agency waited for claims to be paid from a comprehensive state insurance policy covering about 90 percent of the damage.

In North Carolina, with $1.7 mil8lion in damage to schools, federal payments were delayed by a similar insurance settlement procedure and the fact that fema suspended the processing of damage-survey reports until the roles of the various agencies involved were clarified.

In the Virgin Islands, Education Department and territorial officials had difficulty awarding funds and carrying out damage repair because a shortage of contractors delayed the awarding of repair contracts.

Some state and fema officials told the gao that problems encountered in the aftermath of the disasters could best be addressed by having one federal agency deal with disaster-stricken schools. Several said fema should be in charge of such efforts because it has more staff and expertise, with personnel in the field where they are more accessible to state and local officials, the report said.

Other state officials argued, however, that the Education Department should be responsible for repairing damage to schools because of its expertise in dealing with educational facilities. Education Department officials asserted that they should retain responsibility for parts of the program dealing with lost revenues and increased operating costs resulting from disasters.

The report recommended that the agencies involved clarify their responsibilities. It also urged that fema cooperate with the Education Department so that duplicate inspections do not occur.

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