CREDIT: AP/The Denver Post
As the government shutdown puts a strain on military members across the country, the Colorado National Guard has furloughed 650 people, some of whom were working to rebuild communities devastated by last month’s historic flooding. But the state isn’t letting the furloughs stand in the way of flood rebuilding.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper said Tuesday he will use state funds to pay the 120 National Guard members working on flood recovery — workers who are normally paid by FEMA. The daily cost of the workers is estimated at $40,000 to $80,000, and until the government reopens, that money will come from the state’s emergency-relief fund. Once the shutdown ends, the state hopes to get reimbursed for about 75 percent of the National Guard expenses by FEMA — the rest of the money will have to come from state and local government funds. Colorado still hopes Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will reclassify the National Guard members as essential, so that the state doesn’t have to foot the bill for long.
“We can’t afford to lose one day in rebuilding areas destroyed or damaged by the floods,” Hickenlooper said. “Our National Guard troops are an invaluable part of the team working on the recovery. We need them to stay on the job.”
If the government shutdown drags on, it’s still unclear how Colorado will deal with the 450 Guard members from Utah, Kansas and Wyoming who are scheduled to arrive in the state in waves in the coming months. The state is hoping to get at least one passable lane open in all major highways by Dec. 1, a goal that could be delayed if the shutdown creates further kinks in National Guard aid.
But for right now, outside of the National Guard questions that still remain, rebuilding is going as planned in Colorado. Federal disaster relief from FEMA is still coming in to the state, as FEMA spokesperson Dan Watson assured earlier this week. Watson said there are 1,000 FEMA workers on the ground in Colorado, helping Colorado citizens recoup after the disaster. And since state officials are currently tracking all oil and gas spills as a result of the flood, that work isn’t likely to be affected by the shutdown. Colorado’s government has not shut down.
Rebuilding from Superstorm Sandy, too, is expected to continue largely as planned during the shutdown. But disaster cleanup in other areas may face more of a challenge. California’s massive Rim fire is now 92 percent contained, meaning very little of the fire is still burning. But there are still hot spots on the ground, and though about 41 percent of U.S. Forest Service employees continue to work — including some firefighters such as the elite “hotshots” crews — it could be hard for them to purchase the supplies and equipment they need as funding runs low during the shutdown. And since states like Colorado could see more wildfires this fall, a decrease in firefighters and funding leaves them, as one local sheriff said, in a precarious position.