FEMA to Pay More to Fla. for Hurricanes

The federal government will cover a bigger share of the bill for hurricane preparation, cleanup and damage repair incurred by the state and municipalities, the White House said.

President Bush has ordered the Federal Emergency Management Agency (search) to pay for 90 percent of costs that local agencies rack up because of the four hurricanes that hit the state in August and September. FEMA previously paid 75 percent of costs not covered by insurance.

The directive, issued Thursday, covers repairs to public infrastructure such as buildings, roads and schools, as well as overtime for fire and police departments, FEMA officials said.

The change is critical for Florida, a key state in next month's presidential election that was battered by Hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne. Some counties have sustained damage from as many as three of those storms.

"That will save us a big chunk of change," said Willard Beck, city manager of Punta Gorda, which was ravaged by Charley.

Typically, state and local governments split the costs FEMA won't cover. With so much damage across Florida, the cost of repairing hurricane damage would have stretched state and local coffers beyond their limits.

Gov. Jeb Bush's office estimated last month that the cost to the state for Charley, Frances and Ivan could reach $1 billion. Many local governments were still tallying their final cost.

Since the first hurricane, FEMA has given $500 million in aid to Florida cities and counties and about $1.2 billion in emergency aid, cleanup and rebuilding assistance to individuals. Across the state, more than 680,000 hurricane victims have applied for help since Charley hit.