Tips: Managing Payroll During DisastersFEMA Public Assistance Reimbursement
Cities and counties can incur millions of dollars in disaster response and recovery costs. Although FEMA reimburses most of these, if cost and time expenditures aren’t properly recorded localities may be denied assistance or forced to return money years after the disaster hits.
It’s important that your locality has a plan in place for mundane yet crucial tasks such as payroll accounting during a natural disaster. Follow these tips to ensure time and cost expenditures obtained before, during and after a disaster are properly documented.
Designate at least one person to document disaster costs.
- Ideally, you should designate and train this person before a disaster hits. If not, someone like a city or county finance manager, comptroller, a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or any person with accounting experience, can step in to fill this roll and should begin recording costs as soon as a presidential declaration is made.
- If your municipality has the capacity, consider appointing a disaster financial manager to your emergency operations team.
- Station the person responsible for documenting payroll in the emergency operations center (EOC), where they can quickly receive direction from the emergency manager and gather information from other team members.
Begin keeping payroll records as soon as the possibility of a natural disaster becomes apparent.
- Activities performed before a disaster even makes landfall can be eligible for reimbursement. These include tasks like going door-to-door to evacuate residents, sandbagging, shelter setup and any other task tied directly to the event.
- Even if the presidential disaster declaration is not made pre-landfall, keeping detailed payroll records of activities that occur before the declaration can maximize the reimbursement funds you receive and support your state’s request for a presidential disaster declaration.
Be ready with multiple payroll tracking methods.
- IBTS suggests using the WH-347 form — a standardized fillable PDF payroll form recognized by every federal agency — to track disaster related costs.
- The person responsible for disaster payroll accounting should download and save a copy of the form to multiple computers before an event. That way, it’s available even if there is no internet access.
- This person should also print copies and store them in a protected location so they are available in the event that computer access is limited. At minimum, the emergency manager should also know where these are stored in case the designated finance and accounting lead cannot report to the EOC.
Maintain records for at least 10 years following a disaster.
- FEMA can request an audit five to eight, and sometimes even ten years after a disaster hits. If documentation is unavailable, incomplete or incorrect, FEMA may force you to repay the funding you received.
- While FEMA only requires that documents be maintained for five years, through experience and as an extra precaution, IBTS recommends keeping documents for 10 years.