May 29, 2014

Schumer, Gillibrand Urge FEMA, SBA to Be Ready to Swiftly Approve Disaster Declaration For Up to Six Severely Impacted Finger Lakes Counties

Following SBA Officials Tour on Wednesday, Schumer & Gillibrand Write to FEMA in Support of a Disaster Declaration To Help Reimburse Up To Six Finger Lakes Counties that Experienced Significant Rainfall and Flooding Earlier this Month; Write to SBA in Support of Low-Interest Disaster Loans to Renters, Homeowners, Businesses

Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand urged FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate and the Small Business Administration (SBA) to be ready to swiftly approve New York State’s anticipated request for federal support in light of the severe flooding in the Finger Lakes, if the damage assessment meets the federal threshold. Specifically, Schumer and Gillibrand are requesting FEMA quickly approve of a disaster declaration for the impacted counties that include Yates, Ontario, Livingston, Wayne, Seneca, and Monroe Counties if it qualifies.  The Senators also wrote to Small Business Administration (SBA) Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet following a Wednesday tour by SBA officials to the region to perform a Preliminary Damage Assessment.  If a disaster caused physical damage to 25 homes or business structures in excess of 40% of the uninsured value, the state can apply to the SBA for an SBA Disaster Declaration.  Once awarded the SBA can offer low-interest loans to renters, homeowners, and businesses to make repairs, replace household items, or clean up debris in the designated counties and in any contiguous counties. 

“It is critical that we get federal resources on the ground as soon as possible, so that Yates County and the other impacted Finger Lakes counties can recover and rebuild after this severe weather,” said Schumer. “So we want FEMA and the SBA to stand ready to approve a federal disaster declaration and provide all forms of available aid for impacted municipalities, farmers homeowners and businesses. This federal disaster assistance is necessary because it will give reassurance to our communities that the federal government will be there to help respond and recover.”

“Severe flooding has washed away roads and flooded homes and main street businesses in Yates County and throughout the Finger Lakes Region,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Countless residents and small business owners sustained damage, which is why federal assistance is so important.  I will continue to work to ensure that all possible resources are brought to bear to ensure a full recovery for all of our impacted communities.”

Beginning May 13 and continuing through May 16, emergency crews worked conducting evacuations and water rescues as a result of the worst flooding to hit the region in over forty years. A state of emergency has been declared by the Governor in Yates County and Penn Yan schools were closed. Several buildings in Penn Yan suffered major damage. The flooding caused the Owl’s Nest, a former community center that was being rehabbed on Seneca Street to collapse. The Finger Lakes Economic Development Center (FLEDC) Chief Executive Officer, Steve Griffin has said his initial estimate for damaged businesses is at least 50 million, adding that damage estimates from “just a handful of those businesses,” could total more than $3 million. Parts of Route 364 were also closed because ditches and culverts running underneath the state road washed out.

In the event a FEMA Disaster declaration is requested and approved, impacted municipalities could receive up to 75% reimbursement for the cost to repair public infrastructure.  If an SBA declaration is requested an approved, the SBA can provide qualified recipients with low interest loans up to $40,000 to renters and homeowners to replace personal property, $200,000 to homeowners to repair, replace, or clean up damaged homes, and up to $2 million to business owners to repair damaged businesses.  Interest rates are set quarterly but currently can be as low as 2.188% for homeowners and as low as 4% for businesses. Camp Good Days, a popular summer camp on Keuka Lake, for example, suffered a reported $250,000 worth of damage and an SBA loan would help the camp cover the immediate cleanup costs. Camp Good Days is hoping to clean up the damage before the camp is scheduled to open this summer.

A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s letters to FEMA and the SBA appear below:

Dear FEMA Administrator Fugate:

We write in strong support of residents of counties in upstate New York that were recently impacted by severe flooding. New York State is currently in the process of assessing the damage, and should that damage meet a level where the State requests a major disaster declaration for the impacted counties we urge you to swiftly approve that declaration. Significant flooding caused by severe rainfall has caused significant amounts of damage across a six county area, forced hundreds to evacuate from their homes, destroyed countless amounts of personal property, and rendered critical infrastructure inoperable or heavily damaged. Powerful bursts of rain falling in already saturated areas swelled rivers and caused waters to cascade from hills and contribute to sudden floods that damaged businesses, eroded infrastructure, inundated farms and demolished homes in a matter of minutes.

On May 14, 2014 the State declared a State Disaster Emergency for various counties, and certain municipalities were also declared local states of emergency because of the storm’s severity. The storm, which impacted over 150 homes and dozens of businesses destroyed untold amounts of personal property. Flooding through Yates, Ontario, Livingston, Wayne, Seneca, and Monroe counties devastated homeowners, local businesses, farms, and critical infrastructure.  Farms were completely inundated for days, roads were closed, power lines knocked down, and highways were closed and thoroughly damaged. Sink holes opened up on area roads and properties and hundreds of vehicles and commercial buildings were washed away. The Finger Lakes Economic Development Center (FLEDC) Chief Executive Officer, Steve Griffin has said his initial estimate for damaged businesses is at least $50 million, adding that damage estimates from “just a handful of those businesses,” could total more than $3 million. This is only a fraction of what the damage is likely to be when more complete assessments can be made. This number does not include damages to State owned property or the cost of debris removal or other emergency measures. Until the waters recede, we will not be able to fully grasp the extent of this disaster.

Without approval of this support through the powers afforded to you in the Stafford Act, the state will have an even more difficult time recovering from the constant impact of a recent string of disasters. The State has yet to fully recover from Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee, and Superstorm Sandy, and believe that federal assistance is necessary to preserve safety of our citizens and infrastructure against future disasters. We are grateful for the prompt attention that you and the entire federal government have given to quickly responding to disasters impacting New York State, and for your commitment to cutting bureaucratic red-tape so that assistance can be provided as quickly and efficiently as possible. In that spirit, we strongly urge you to approve any forthcoming request by the state.

Dear SBA Administrator Contreras-Sweet,

We write to bring your attention to a devastating situation impacting homeowners, businesses, and renters across several counties in upstate New York caused by recent flash flooding.  We urge you to take immediate action to work with the affected counties and the State of New York to determine whether damage meets the statutory disaster threshold for Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster assistance. 

Back-to-back severe storms, which occurred on May 13, 2014 and again on May 15-16 caused extreme flooding and extensive damage to private property across Yates County and several other counties in New York.  Significant flooding caused by several inches of rain during a short time frame forced many residents to evacuate their homes in the middle of the night, destroyed countless amounts of personal property, and caused significant structural damage to homes and businesses.  In the ten days since the final storm, local officials have conducted initial damage assessments that alone have found approximately twenty-five structures in Yates County with structural damage. Officials have condemned approximately eight others that were severely damaged. 

On May 14, 2014 New York State declared a State Disaster Emergency for various counties, and certain municipalities were also declared local states of emergency because of the storm’s severity. The storm, which impacted over 150 homes and dozens of businesses destroyed a substantial amount of personal property.  Flooding through Yates, Ontario, Livingston, Wayne, Seneca, and Monroe counties devastated homeowners, local businesses, farms, and critical infrastructure.  Farms were completely inundated for days, roads were closed, power lines knocked down, and highways were closed and thoroughly damaged. Sink holes opened up on area roads on properties and hundreds of vehicles and several commercial buildings collapsed or were washed away. An initial estimate by the Finger Lakes Economic Development Center found damage to local businesses will likely exceed $50 million.  This initial number is only a fraction of what the damage is likely to be once a more complete assessment can be completed with assistance from the SBA.

As costs begin to mount for homeowners, residents, and business owners who must cleanup debris, replace personal property, and repair uninsured structures, the availability to tap low-interest federal loans from the SBA will be vital.  Residents and homeowners should not be doubly faced with high interest loans simply to ensure the can repair their homes or keep their store open for business. This is particularly critical for businesses that rely on the summer tourism season that has just begun.  We are grateful for the prompt attention that you and the entire federal government have given to quickly responding to disasters impacting New York State, and for your commitment to cutting bureaucratic red-tape so that assistance can be provided as quickly and efficiently as possible. In that spirit, we strongly urge you to approve any forthcoming requests for SBA assistance as New York recovers from these storms.