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Schumer, Gillibrand to FEMA: speed up storm recovery process

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand recently urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expediently complete Preliminary Damage Assessments for both Public Assistance and Individual Assistance in 18 counties across Upstate New York — which are necessary to unlock federal recovery funding — after they were battered by severe storms and flooding from Oct. 31 through Nov. 1.

During this period, 12 counties received at least 3 inches of rain, which is nearly a month’s worth in most upstate areas, and 27 counties received flood and flash flood warnings. Winds blew between 60 and 70 miles per hour, knocking down trees, destroying private property and leaving hundreds of thousands of upstate New Yorkers without power.

“Just two weeks ago, our state, from one corner to the other, saw severe damage after being ravaged by heavy rain, flooding and tempestuous winds. It is absolutely critical that we get these communities the aid they need and the first step is for FEMA to prioritize this damage and to complete preliminary damage assessments immediately,” said Schumer. “This immense damage will total tens of millions of dollars in costs suffered and demands swift help from the feds to repair.”

“Communities all across Upstate New York are still suffering from the extensive damage that the Halloween storms caused. The federal government has a responsibility to assist in the recovery efforts, and the first step to doing just that is ensuring that FEMA completes preliminary damage assessments as quickly as possible,” said Gillibrand.

After any severe storm, the first step in the federal disaster declaration process is for the state to request a Preliminary Damage Assessment, during which FEMA representatives join state, local, and other officials to survey damage across storm-impacted counties to help determine whether the cost of the disaster meets the criteria for a federal disaster declaration.

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act authorizes the president to issue “major disaster” or “emergency” declarations before or after catastrophes occur. These declarations unlock federal aid through FEMA that is broken into two broad areas: Individual Assistance that aids families and individuals, and Public Assistance that is mainly for emergency work such as debris removal and permanent repairs to infrastructure.

Regarding the cost, FEMA has certain thresholds that have to be met to qualify for PA specific to the state and the counties in question. For New York, the current PA threshold for the state is a little less than $30 million, which each county must experience $3.84 of damages per capita in the 2020 fiscal year.