Illinois holding back checks to Henderson County to collect FEMA debt


OQUAWKA, Ill. (KWQC) — Henderson County leaders are scrambling to figure out how to pay back $470,000 to the federal government. Illinois has started withholding checks to the county to pay off the debt. This money stems from an audit of emergency funds given to the county after the 2008 flood.

A levee burst and 15 billion gallons of floodwater inundated thousands of acres. In response the county received nearly $5 million in emergency grants from the Federal Emergency Managment Agency. Now it’s demanding some of that money back.

Eight years ago Jerald Fainter fought to keep the Mississippi River out of Henderson County.

“I was down there help sandbagging, trying to save everything,” said Oquawka resident Jerald Fainter.

The effort failed and thousand of acres of Henderson County flooded. As a result 100 homes were wrecked and needed to be cleaned up.

Fainter said, “It wasn’t one person’s mistake, it was two, it was FEMA’s plus Henderson County.”

The county bid out the work with FEMA money. The work was done. But in 2011 an inspector general investigation found the county didn’t follow federal contracting rules. FEMA deauthorized the grant and ordered the county to pay back the money. Now Illinois is collecting the money by withholding checks to the county.

“We’re getting shafted,” said Fainter.

The big picture problem facing Henderson County is simple, it doesn’t have enough money to pay back FEMA. The day to day reality is more complex. Some departments are getting money, some aren’t, and the department heads simply don’t know what’s going to happen.

$134,000 in road money disappeared. The health department lost 18,000 so far. The county has only half of the required payment in reserves. The rest is coming straight out of department budgets.

Health Department Administrator Angela Myers said, “We have two payrolls, and that’s it.”

Myers said her employees have already taken pay cuts from last year. And she says seniors rely on the county’s services.

“We matter too, Henderson County is small, and we may not have much, but it’s our home, and we matter,” said Myers.

FEMA told Illinois to collect the money otherwise it will withhold grant money to the state if Henderson County doesn’t pay. The Henderson County board meets next Tuesday. The State’s Attorney was in Springfield Thursday trying to negotiate a payment plan with the state. FEMA has set a June deadline to collect the money.

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