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Senators Say Disaster Declaration Would Unlock Federal Funds For Impacted Counties Still Recovering From Intense Flooding

Schumer, Gillibrand To FEMA: Swiftly Approve Requested Aid For Rochester-Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, And Capital Region Residents

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to quickly approve New York State’s request for a major disaster declaration following the severe thunderstorm and floods that battered counties across the Rochester-Finger Lakes region, the Southern Tier, and the Capital Region on August 14th of this year. During this thunderstorm, up to nine inches of rain fell in some areas over the span of a few hours, causing creeks and waterways to overflow that then swept down trees, roads, property, and debris. Schumer and Gillibrand requested that FEMA swiftly approve New York state’s request for federal assistance, which was submitted on August 31st of this year, after damages from the storm crossed the $28.29 million federal aid threshold.

“Just last month, communities across the Rochester-Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, and Capital Region were ravaged by thunderstorms and flash flooding, and it is absolutely crucial that we get them the federal disaster resources they need to recover,” said Senator Schumer. “FEMA needs to swiftly approve New York’s request for federal assistance to help these communities recover and rebuild.”

“When a major storm hits, FEMA has an obligation to step in and make sure that our communities have the resources they need to recover,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Last month’s storms and severe flooding caused substantial damage for the Rochester-Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, and Capital Region communities. I urge FEMA to step in and quickly approve New York State’s request for federal disaster assistance so that these communities have the support necessary to recover.”  

If a disaster declaration is declared, grant assistance would be made available to state and local governments, as well as certain non-profit organizations, to reimburse costs incurred for emergency work and the repair or replacement of damaged facilities. This funding is available on a cost-sharing basis; FEMA generally covers 75 percent of the eligible costs for permanent and emergency work. After any severe storm, the first step in the 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. Schumer and Gillibrand urged FEMA Administrator Brock Long to support and approve New York State’s request for federal aid.

A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter to FEMA appears below:

Dear Administrator Long:

We write to urge you to expeditiously approve New York State’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration and Public Assistance for the 8 counties across southern New York impacted by severe storms and flooding from August 13th to August 18th 2018.

After over a month of persistent rain storms, wet weather produced dangerous conditions that devastated southern New York.  The declaration proposed by New York State would grant Public Assistance to Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Columbia, Schuyler, Seneca, and Tioga Counties. From July 22, 2018 to August 21, 2018 these counties faced up to 20 inches of rain. The prolonged rain produced heavy rainfall, flash flooding, tornados and strong winds.  The ground quickly became saturated and heavy rain caused high-velocity running storm water.  Rushing flood waters were exacerbated by the mountainous region’s varied elevation. Roads throughout the state were blocked during the storm with debris and water leaving bridges and roads damaged from erosion.  FEMA State offices estimate there is $36,530,321 million in infrastructure and debris removal costs.

Throughout the past year New York State has faced severe negative impacts due to flash flooding. Following the summer flooding of 2018, three nor’easters in March, and severe tornado-producing storms in May, state and local government resources have become severely strained and are struggling to recover from this most recent incident. Since July of this year, state of emergencies have been declared in 14 counties due to the dangerous series of wet weather including the counties of Broome, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Monroe, Onondaga, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Tioga, Wayne, and Yates. The severity of this incident requires federal assistance to go beyond the capabilities of the state and local governments.

We are grateful for the prompt attention that the federal government has historically given to quickly responding to disasters impacting New York State.  In that spirit, we strongly urge you to expeditiously approve the state’s request for a Major Disaster Declaration and Public Assistance for 8 counties across New York State.