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Senators Urge FEMA Reconsider Denial Of Cortland County Disaster Declaration

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Spafford Landing (photo from Mike Eves)

Senators Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand Friday urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reconsider its decision to deny New York State’s recent appeal of FEMA’s initial denial of a disaster declaration for New York State.

Tree down on Main Street in front of the Sherman House. (Photo provided)

The senators said 15 counties in New York State (including Cortland) were devastated by severe storms and flooding between June 30 and July 24, 2017.

The storms destroyed public infrastructure and caused tens of millions of dollars in damages that these counties are still struggling to address.

Schumer and Gillibrand said that FEMA must immediately reconsider its decision and give these impacted localities the tools they need to make critical repairs and prepare for future storms.

Sen. Chuck Schumer

“Simply put, FEMA has made a critical mistake by denying New York’s disaster declaration for the series of related summer storms that caused so much flooding and damage across Upstate. These counties have unfairly been left out to dry by the Feds, after suffering through weeks of severe storms that damaged homes and infrastructure. It is clear there is more FEMA can do here to ensure that these communities have the support they need,” said Senator Schumer. “The damage is significant and pervasive throughout these counties, and if FEMA honestly thinks there is not ‘enough’ I encourage them to visit these impacted communities and explain to these New Yorkers why they are not eligible for the same level of federal assistance other counties received this year. I will keep fighting to push FEMA to reconsider and ultimately reverse their decision in order to give these 15 counties the resources and tools they need to recover and rebuild.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand

“After months of waiting for FEMA to do its job and help our state recover from the devastating storms last summer, I am outraged that FEMA is denying New Yorkers the funding our state urgently needs,” said Senator Gillibrand. “I urge FEMA to immediately reverse this decision. Millions of New Yorkers across some of the hardest-hit areas of our state are doing everything they can on their own to rebuild, but without FEMA’s assistance, our state will not be able to fully recover from these natural disasters. There should be no excuses – FEMA has a responsibility to step in and help, and they need to do it now.”

Last summer a series of related, massive storms hit 15 counties in New York including: Broome, Cayuga, Cortland, Essex, Franklin, Herkimer, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence, Tioga, Warren, Washington, and Wyoming Counties. All of the storms were caused by one stubborn weather system over the Great Lakes, according to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). It caused extensive damage to many rural and distressed communities.

According to New York State and FEMA’s own per capita assessments, Wyoming County’s damage was 19 times above the per capita threshold, Cayuga 13 times, Oneida 9 times, Tioga and Herkimer 8 times, and Rensselaer and Franklin 6 times above the indicator. Not only did these counties experience an extraordinary concentration of the impacts, but the state also exceeded its per capita indicator as well. Schumer and Gillibrand said that these damage assessments exceed FEMA’s standards, and that FEMA must reverse its decision. Schumer and Gillibrand also said absent federal assistance, these communities will be unable to effectively rebuild, recover and prepare for future events.

The senators explained FEMA’s denial of the disaster declaration states that the storms were separate incidents, and that no single storm independently rose to the level of a single event requiring federal assistance. But according to Schumer and Gillibrand there is no requirement or provision in the Stafford Act that states that a disaster declaration must be tied to a single storm. Schumer and Gillibrand said, in fact, on several separate occasions in recent years, FEMA has issued major declarations for states impacted by a series of storms lasting more than a period of one week. Recent examples include, but are not limited to, DR- 4318 granted to Arkansas for severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding for an incident period of about three weeks in 2017, and DR-4317 granted to Missouri for severe storms, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and flooding for an incident period of about two weeks in 2017. The Senators also pointed to several instances over the past decades in New York State where FEMA has grouped storms into a single event for consideration and declared a federal disaster. Schumer and Gillibrand added that the Small Business Administration (SBA) was also willing to issue an administrative disaster declaration for New York State for this series of severe storms and flooding, making SBA loans available for an incident period of July 1 to July 24. According to New York State, SBA determined that the damage was from a single incident by utilizing the NOAA weather data.

Schumer and Gillibrand said the 15 counties suffered extreme damages to residential homes, small businesses, public facilities, roads and bridges, and that it is impractical to expect state and local governments to plan and budget for the impacts of storm events lasting 25 days. Schumer and Gillibrand said New Yorkers must be given the same courtesy as other communities who have experienced similar storms and help relieve some of the financial burden unexpectedly placed on these economically-challenged counties. Schumer and Gillibrand are urging FEMA to act and overturn its denial of New York State’s appeal.

This information provided by U.S. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand

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