Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand Friday urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to reconsider their decision to deny New York State’s recent appeal of FEMA’s initial denial of a disaster declaration for New York State.
The senators said 15 counties in New York State were devastated by severe storms and flooding between June 30th and July 24th 2017. That 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.
Last summer a series of related, massive storms hit 15 counties in New York including Cayuga. According to New York State and FEMA’s own per capita assessments, Cayuga County’s damage was 13 times above the per capita threshold. You can read their full letter below:
Dear Administrator Long:
We write to urge 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 the damage caused by severe storms and flooding that impacted 15 counties in New York State from June 30, 2017 through July 24, 2017. The devastating series of storms wreaked havoc on public and private infrastructure, resulting in tens of millions of dollars in damage that the these counties are still struggling to address.
During this period, the state repeatedly suffered from a series of unrelenting storms caused by one persistent weather system over the Great Lakes, according the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), causing extensive damage to many rural and distressed communities. According to New York State and FEMA’s damage assessments, the following counties exceeded the per capita threshold for a Major Disaster declaration under the Stafford Act: Damage in Wyoming County was 19 times above the threshold, damage in Cayuga County was 13 times above the threshold, damage in Oneida County was 9 times above the threshold, damage in Tioga and Herkimer Counties was 8 times above the threshold, and damage in Rensselaer and Franklin Counties was 6 times above the threshold. Not only did these counties experience an extraordinary concentration of the impacts, but the State also exceeded its per capita threshold as well.
FEMA’s denial of the disaster declaration states that the storms were separate incidents, and that no single storm independently rises to the level of a single event requiring federal assistance. However there is no requirement or provision in the Stafford Act which states that a disaster declaration must be tied to a single storm. 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. In addition, there were multiple occasions over the past decades in New York State where FEMA has grouped storms into a single event for consideration and declared a federal disaster. 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.
These 15 counties suffered severe damages to residential homes, small businesses, public facilities, roads, and bridges. It is impractical to expect state and local governments to plan and budget for the impacts of a series of extreme weather events lasting 25 days. Thus we implore you to give New Yorkers 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. If that is not possible, we urge you to visit these counties and explain to residents why their county is not eligible for the same level of federal assistance other counties received this year.
It is imperative that FEMA reconsider its decision to deny a disaster declaration for Broome, Cayuga, Cortland, Essex, Franklin, Herkimer, Madison, Oneida, Onondaga, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence, Tioga, Warren, Washington, and Wyoming Counties. Absent federal assistance, these communities will be unable to effectively rebuild, recover and prepare for future events.
Thank you for your time and attention to this matter. Please contact our offices if you have any further questions.
Charles E. Schumer