September 15, 2011

Gillibrand Announces Senate Passage Of Disaster Relief Bill

Bill Includes $5.1 Billion For FEMA, $266 Million For USDA

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand announced Senate passage today of the Disaster Relief legislation. The $6.9 billion disaster funding bill included $5.1 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and $266 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Senator Gillibrand aggressively lobbied her Senate colleagues to pass this disaster package. Senator Gillibrand has traveled across the state, receiving briefings and viewing the damage caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, working to bring all federal resources to bear to aid in the recovery. Senator Gillibrand has toured damage on Long Island, in Westchester County, the Capital Region, Catskill, Schoharie County and Binghamton.

“This legislation is a step forward to ensuring federal assistance to help our families, farmers, businesses and communities recover,” said Senator Gillibrand. “America has always stood by those suffering from disaster and helped them to rebuild. We have an obligation to help these families rebuild today. Across New York – the North Country, Capital Region, Mohawk Valley, Hudson Valley, Southern Tier, and Long Island – no one can question the devastation these storms left in these communities. We must stand with them in this time of great need.”

$5.1 Billion For The FEMA Disaster Relief Fund
The FEMA Disaster Relief Fund provides Public Assistance and Individual Assistance to designated counties. Without final passage of this legislation, FEMA will likely run out of funding in the next few weeks and be unable to pay, reimburse, or loan money to families and communities.

FEMA's individual assistance program includes a range of programs, such as home repair, temporary housing, grants for serious disaster-related needs and expenses not covered by insurance or other assistance programs.

Public assistance is federal aid made available to public and certain nonprofit entities for emergency services and the repair or replacement of public facilities damaged in a natural disaster. Qualifying municipalities and entities can use public assistance funding for debris removal and cleanup, emergency protective measures to save lives and prevent further property damage following a storm and to repair washed out and heavily damaged roads and bridges. Local governments can also utilize this source of funding to repair water control facilities including dams and levees, to repair public buildings and equipment damaged from the storm, repair utilities, and repair or restore public parks and other recreational facilities.

$78 Million For The Emergency Conservation Program (ECP)
The ECP is coordinated through the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA) to provide emergency funding and technical assistance for farmers and ranchers to repair farmland damaged by natural disasters, and to carry out emergency water conservation measures during severe drought. Conservation practices include removing debris, restoring fences and conservation structures, and providing water for livestock. 

For land to be eligible for ECP resources, the natural disaster must create new conservation problems that if left untreated would impair or endanger the land, materially affect the land’s productive capacity, represent unusual damage, and be so costly to repair that federal assistance is or will be required to return the land to productive agricultural use.

ECP program participants receive cost-share assistance of up to 75 percent of the cost to implement approved conservation practices determined by county FSA committees. Individual or cumulative requests for cost-sharing of $50,000 or less per person, per disaster are approved at the county committee level, $50,001 to $100,000 is approved at the state level, and over $100,000 is approved at the federal level. Technical assistance may be provided by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

$139 Million For The Emergency Watershed Protection Program (EWP)
The EWP was established to help conserve natural resources following natural disasters by relieving imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, drought, windstorms and other severe weather. The EWP responds to hazards including debris-clogged streams and channels, undermined and unstable stream banks, jeopardized water control structures and public infrastructure, wind-borne debris removal, and damaged upland sites stripped of protective vegetation by fire or drought.

Protection efforts can include purchasing floodplain easements to restore, protect, maintain and enhance the floodplain, including wetlands and riparian areas. It can also conserve natural values, including fish and wildlife habitat, water quality, flood water retention and groundwater recharge, and safeguard lives and property from floods, drought and erosion.

NRCS may bear up to 75 percent of the construction cost of emergency measures. The remaining costs must come from local sources, and can be in the form of cash or in-kind services. Public and private landowners are eligible for assistance but must be represented by a project sponsor, such as the state, local government, or conservation district.

All EWP work must reduce the threat to life and property, be economically, environmentally and socially defensible, and come from a sound technical standpoint.

$100 Million For Community Development Block Grants (CDBG)
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) would specifically use this funding for disaster recovery. HUD gives states and localities the flexibility to meet a variety of needs, from assisting individual homeowners and business owners, to buying out properties to make way for more robust flood protection in the future, to developing infrastructure to rebuild homes and business zones away from flood danger. 

$135 Million For The Economic Development Administration (EDA)
EDA would use this funding to provide financial resources and technical assistance to help rebuild economic development plans following a disaster and grants to build new infrastructure (e.g. business incubators, technology parks, research facilities, basic utilities such as water treatment) that foster economic development to retain or attract jobs to the region.