Government officials vow to press for FEMA funds
The snow is still being plowed and expected floodwaters have yet to crest, but fast-track preparations are underway to seek the federal dollars needed for the massive response to last week’s storm.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Rep. Chris Collins both toured the snow-struck area on Saturday, promising to marshal all their forces in an effort to obtain Federal Emergency Management Agency money. With snow removal, building damage and flood response expected to push costs into the millions, Schumer and Collins – as well as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo – all said Saturday they expect to successfully make their case.
“I will do everything I can to make sure FEMA grants it,” Schumer said during a press conference at the county Emergency Operations Center in Cheektowaga.
Agency representatives will arrive in the area on Tuesday to begin assessing the situation, he said.
The senator, who earlier toured storm-affected Mercy Hospital in South Buffalo as well as homes and businesses along Seneca Street, said he expects costs to exceed the FEMA thresholds of $27 million for New York State and $3.2 million for Erie County. He said he has put the White House “on notice” that the request for federal aid will be vigorously encouraged to assist homeowners, farmers, small business owners and municipalities including Erie County and the City of Buffalo.
Schumer said federal money is available to provide temporary housing, fix roofs and heating systems, as well as for livestock loss or effects on businesses caused by the storm. He said 75 percent of costs are reimbursable, but that experience with Hurricanes Sandy and Irene have resulted in 90 percent payments.
Loans of up to $40,000 are available for small business owners, he said, while homeowners can seek aid to replace clothing, furniture, cars and appliances.
Appearing with County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz and Mayor Byron W. Brown, Schumer noted previous difficulties in receiving FEMA money, such as following the October Surprise of 2006. The agency attempted to take back reimbursement money from the storm several years later.
“I said not this time,” Schumer said regarding his preliminary discussions. “I want people on the ground here the minute a disaster is declared. I will be there every step of the way to make sure the federal government holds up its end of the bargain.”
Cuomo, meanwhile, has said throughout the emergency that he will support seeking federal funds but prefers to wait until any potential flooding occurs. He maintains the state and local governments stand a better chance of success if the snow and resulting floods are viewed as the same event.
On Saturday, during his fourth consecutive day of overseeing storm operations in Western New York, Cuomo said he will also pursue the FEMA designation and urged all those affected to maintain detailed records for better chances of success in meeting all federal standards for reimbursement.
Collins also toured hard-hit areas in the Town of Boston on Saturday with Supervisor Marty Ballow and two councilmen. He said the idea of FEMA aid is to relieve local taxpayers of the extraordinary costs of reacting to natural disasters, and that he will work with the entire New York congressional delegation to make the case with the federal government.
Collins noted that 18 Mile Creek and Back Creek in Boston have significant flooding histories, and that it is expected again in coming days. He joined Cuomo in urging an approach to Washington based on the costs of both snow removal and flood control.
“It will be good for us not to jump too quickly relative to snow,” he said. “I clearly look at any flooding as resulting directly from the snow.”
The region’s congressional delegation has already written to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, asking that the federal government quickly approve any aid request, and Schumer has called senior White House officials with the same plea.