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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 14, 2009

NEW YORK LEGISLATORS DEMAND EXPLANATION FOR FEMA DENIAL OF MAJOR DISASTER DECLARATION FOLLOWING SEVERE DECEMBER ICE STORM


FEMA's Inexplicable Denial Has Left Localities In the Cold As They Are Forced To Foot the Bill After Devastating Ice Storm Damaged Trees, Property and Power Lines

A Major Disaster Declaration Would Provide Much-Needed Relief But FEMA Has Inexplicably Rejected NYS' Request Despite State's By the Book Application

Legislators Push FEMA For Answers and Support State's Efforts to Appeal to Decision

Following a refusal by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for a major disaster declaration in New York State, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Reps. Arcuri, Gillibrand, Hall, Hinchey and Tonko pushed the Agency for an immediate and thorough explanation for its inexplicable decision to deny the declaration following a severe ice storm that hit the Northeast on December 11, 2008. A major disaster declaration would provide much needed relief to the 16 counties hit by the storm but FEMA dismissed New York State’s application despite the fact that all requirements for the declaration were met. The congressional leaders also offered their support for any effort by the state to appeal the decision.

 

To obtain justification for their decision, Senators Schumer and Clinton and Reps. Arcuri, Gillibrand, Hall, Hinchey and Tonko wrote a letter to FEMA Administrator R. David Paulison asking him to provide an explanation for FEMA’s refusal to issue a Major Disaster Declaration to New York State, which would have provided millions in federal assistance.  

 

The legislators wrote: “With damage estimates still climbing, and current estimates exceeding the required $25 million trigger in costs to local and state governments, many of the affected communities simply cannot bear the burden of these costs on their own. We therefore request a detailed and complete explanation for FEMA's unjustified dismissal of New York's application for a major disaster declaration despite the State's having met the statutory requirements for such a declaration. New Yorkers can no longer stand by as critical federal aid is dangled just out of reach.”

 

On December 11th, a disastrous ice storm hit the Northeast, including multiple counties throughout Upstate New York. Reports now indicate that this was the worst ice storm in over twenty years to hit New York's Capital Region, resulting in the tragic loss of three lives, widespread destruction and property damage. At the height of the storm, nearly 300,000 New York homes and businesses were without power.

 

On December 18th, President Bush announced an emergency declaration for 16 New York counties, acknowledging the dire conditions that localities and the State were facing due to the storm’s damage. Though the declaration was an important first step on the way to recovery, the State has yet to be provided with the critical debris removal and federal reimbursement aid that may be awarded following an emergency declaration.

 

After meticulous damage assessments and at-length consultations with regional FEMA officials, New York's Governor David A. Paterson submitted a request for a major disaster declaration with the understanding that the request had met all the necessary criteria for approval. Despite the comprehensive work and assessments of local, state and federal officials, FEMA inexplicably denied federal aid through a major disaster declaration. In denying New York's request for federal assistance through a major disaster declaration, FEMA wrote "the damage was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments."

 

Recognizing the need for immediate relief, the congressional leaders urged FEMA to explain the rationale behind its decision to deny an immediate major disaster declaration for the 16 counties hit by the storm, including Albany, Columbia, Chenango, Delaware, Dutchess, Greene, Otsego, Orange, Putnam, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster and Washington Counties. The leaders said they would support any state effort to appeal the decision.

 

In a letter to FEMA Administrator Paulison sent today, the Senators and Representatives wrote, “With damage estimates still climbing, and current estimates exceeding the required $25 million trigger in costs to local and state governments, many of the affected communities simply cannot bear the burden of these costs on their own. We therefore request a detailed and complete explanation for FEMA's unjustified dismissal of New York's application for a major disaster declaration despite the State's having met the statutory requirements for such a declaration.”

 

A full copy of the letter is below  

 

January 14, 2009

The Honorable R. David Paulison

Administrator

Federal Emergency Management Agency

Department of Homeland Security

500 C Street SW

Washington, DC  20472

 

Dear Administrator Paulison:

 

We write to urge an immediate and thorough explanation of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's decision to deny New York State a major disaster declaration as a result of the damages wrought by the ice storm that hit the Northeast on December 11, 2008.  We anticipate that New York State will appeal this decision and, in advance, wish to convey our strongest support for that effort. 

 

Sixteen counties throughout New York, including Albany, Chenango, Columbia, Delaware, Dutchess, Greene, Orange, Otsego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Saratoga, Schenectady, Schoharie, Sullivan, Ulster, and Washington Counties sustained damages in excess of over $25 million, surpassing the per-capita threshold required for an issuance of a major disaster declaration. After meticulous damage assessments and at-length consultations with regional FEMA officials, New York's Governor David A. Paterson submitted a request for a major disaster declaration with the understanding that the request had met all the necessary criteria for approval. On Monday, despite the comprehensive work and assessments of local, state and federal officials, FEMA issued an inexplicable denial of federal aid through a major disaster declaration. The New York communities struggling to recover with desperately limited resources deserve answers and relief now.

 

As you know, a disastrous ice storm hit the Northeast on December 11th, including many counties throughout New York.  Reports now indicate that this was the worst ice storm in over twenty years to hit New York's Capital Region, resulting in the tragic loss of three lives, widespread destruction and property damage. At the height of the storm, nearly 300,000 New York homes and businesses were without power. In addition, a series of debilitating winter storms that hit New York after December 11th have delayed and exacerbated many recovery efforts.

 

On December 18th, President Bush announced an emergency declaration for 16 New York counties, acknowledging the dire conditions that localities and the State were facing due to the storm’s damage. Though the declaration was an important first step on the way to recovery, the State has yet to be provided with the critical debris removal and federal reimbursement aid that may be awarded following an emergency declaration. New York State's subsequent application for a major disaster declaration met both the county-wide and statewide per-capita thresholds required by the federal Stafford Act for such a declaration.  However in denying New York's request for federal assistance through a major disaster declaration, FEMA wrote "the damage was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the State and affected local governments." With damage estimates still climbing, and current estimates exceeding the required $25 million trigger in costs to local and state governments, many of the affected communities simply cannot bear the burden of these costs on their own.

 

We therefore request a detailed and complete explanation for FEMA's unjustified dismissal of New York's application for a major disaster declaration despite the State's having met the statutory requirements for such a declaration. New Yorkers can no longer stand by as critical federal aid is dangled just out of reach. Thank you for your attention to this important matter.

 

Sincerely,

 

Senator Charles Schumer

Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton

Representative Michael Arcuri

Representative Kirsten Gillibrand

Representative John Hall

Representative Maurice Hinchey

Representative Paul Tonko

 

 

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