WHEREAS the Government of Alberta has an effective emergency management system and an effective Provincial Operations Centre; and
WHEREAS the Government of Alberta regularly requests emergency response deployments from municipalities to assist with regional disaster situations; and
WHEREAS municipalities typically respond quickly to disaster situations and support one another during times of need; and
WHEREAS municipalities are required to submit detailed accounting of expenses incurred during deployments under the provincial Disaster Recovery Program (DRP); and
WHEREAS the Government of Alberta is required to ensure fiscal responsibility in DRP payments;
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the Rural Municipalities of Alberta advocate that the Government of Alberta review its Disaster Recovery Program processes to ensure municipalities receive payments within a defined timeline for resources deployed to assist during regional disasters.
In the past few years, the Government of Alberta has experienced an increased frequency of regional emergencies where resources from unaffected municipalities were deployed under provincial direction or at the request of an affected municipality.
Municipalities are quick to respond to regional emergencies and support one another in times of need. During such disasters and corresponding responses, municipalities incur additional operating and administrative costs.
In 2018, the Government of Alberta developed the Alberta Structure Protection Program Operational Guidelines document, which is intended to “strengthen the capacity for Provincial structure protection while providing flexibility to deploy trained and capable resources with clear rules of engagement and reimbursement requirements.”
The processing of Disaster Relief Program (DRP) claims is lengthy, and Alberta municipal elected officials are concerned with the timelines required for DRP payments.
A recent example is the May 2019 Chuckegg Creek Wildfire for which reimbursements are still outstanding for the local municipality and responding regional partners.
RMA has no active resolutions directly related to this issue.
Alberta Municipal Affairs
Alberta’s disaster recovery programs (DRPs) are intended to be financial assistance programs of last resort in response to widespread disasters or emergencies. The intent is that applicants first use insurance and other sources of assistance prior to accessing DRP assistance. Documentation is required from applicants to ensure that assistance is paid only for eligible uninsurable costs.
To enable DRP applicants to recover more quickly, the 2020 Disaster Assistance Guidelines (DAGs) include shortened program timelines to expedite the closure of DRPs, from five years in previous guidelines to three years. Applicants may request an extension if they experience project delays or are unable to submit the required documentation within the three-year timeline.
The Alberta Emergency Management Agency (AEMA) may provide a local authority applicant with an advance payment of up to 50 per cent of the eligible amount of requested assistance, if requested in writing by the community upon establishment of a DRP. Any subsequent requests for rolling advances must be supported by paid invoices from the applicant. For communities to receive an expedited final DRP payment, it is essential that they have completed their recovery projects and submitted all required records as indicated in the DAGs. Delays or discrepancies in project completion or the submission of requested documents result in final payment delays to the applicant.
The Disaster Assistance Guidelines ensure fair and transparent administration of DRPs and outline documentation requirements for applicants. The guidelines closely align with the federal Disaster Financial Assistance Arrangements (DFAAs) to maximize federal reimbursement and minimize the financial burden on Alberta taxpayers. Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada may provide cost-recovery funding for DRPs based on a progressive formula under the DFAAs.
In order to receive federal reimbursement, the province must pass a strict federal audit for each program and meet all documentation requirements. AEMA is looking for opportunities to reduce red tape for individuals and communities under the DRP. As part of these efforts, AEMA is advocating for changes to the DFAA guidelines that would reduce administrative burdens under the program.
The Government of Alberta response indicates that the current Disaster Recovery Program (DRP) municipal reimbursement process does allow for advance payment of municipal costs if certain conditions are met. However, the resolution indicates that the process for the reimbursement of routine municipal claims under the DRP is unnecessarily lengthy and places an unfair financial burden on municipalities.
The current Disaster Assistance Guidelines do not appear to include any timelines by which DRP support funds will be paid out to municipalities, aside from section 2.10, which states that “final payments will be made based on receipt and review of all documents submitted by the applicant prior to the program closure.” RMA appreciates that the time needed to review documents will depend on the scope and complexity of the application. However, a complete lack of timeline (even of a “goal” or “benchmark” time for reimbursement) reflects a lack of transparency and accountability on the part of the Government of Alberta, and places municipalities into a challenging state of uncertainty.
March 2021 changes to the Disaster Recovery Program introduced a 90/10 cost-sharing split between the Government of Alberta and municipalities. This change adds financial pressures onto municipalities in relation to disaster recovery costs and makes the timely payment of the provincial portion of costs even more important. Unfortunately, no changes were made to the payment timelines.
RMA assigns this resolution a status of Intent Not Met and will continue to advocate on this issue.