Press Release

Schumer, Gillibrand Urge FEMA to be Ready to Quickly Approve Disaster Declaration for Upstate New York Counties Hit by March Snowstorm

Mar 27, 2017

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to stand ready to quickly approve any request from New York State for federal support following Winter Storm Stella. In a letter to Acting FEMA Administrator Robert Fenton, Schumer and Gillibrand requested that FEMA stand ready to approve any forthcoming requests from the state for a disaster declaration for counties that were ravaged by the snowstorm. State and local officials continue to tally up the damage caused by the snowstorm, and the Senators also urged FEMA to approve any forthcoming requests from the state to send in FEMA officials to conduct a Preliminary Damage Assessment, which is the first step in the declaration process following a disaster.

“Communities across Upstate New York were devastated by this historic snowstorm, and it is absolutely crucial that we get them the resources they need to recover,” wrote Senators Schumer and Gillibrand in their letter. “FEMA needs to stand ready to swiftly approve any forthcoming requests from the state for assistance to help these communities recover and rebuild.”

If a disaster declaration is declared, grant assistance would be made available to state and local governments, as well as certain non-profit organizations, to reimburse costs incurred for emergency work and the repair or replacement of damaged facilities. This funding is available on a cost-sharing basis; FEMA generally covers 75% of the eligible costs for permanent and emergency work. If a county receives record or near-record snowfall in a disaster declaration, they would be eligible to be reimbursed for snow removal in addition to emergency protective measures, like search and rescue and sheltering. After a disaster like Stella, the first step in the declaration process is for the state to request a Preliminary Damage Assessment, during which FEMA representatives join state, local, and other officials to survey damage across storm-impacted counties to help determine whether the cost of the disaster meets the criteria for a federal disaster declaration.

A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter appears below:

Dear Acting Administrator Fenton:

We write in strong support of communities across upstate New York that were recently impacted by the severe snowstorm. 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, we urge you to swiftly implement the federal programs activated by the approval of the request. We also urge FEMA to stand ready to participate in a Preliminary Damage Assessment with the state and local officials, should the state request it. Finally, in evaluating any requests from the state for a disaster declaration, I urge you to consider the damage suffered in central and western New York from the severe windstorm on March 8. Communities were only just beginning to tally the damage from the windstorm—and some residents had only just had their electricity turned back on after several days in the dark—when the Rochester region received more than two feet of snow, making the recovery process much more difficult.

On March 13, New York declared a state of emergency across all 62 counties in the state in advance of a snowstorm that produced record snowfall in some parts of upstate New York. While the forecast predicted snow for the entire state, with the heaviest snow on New York City and Long Island, the brunt of the storm ended up being felt further north and west, and plows, National Guardsmen, and other assets had to be re-deployed to different locations once the storm hit. Some areas in Dutchess and Broome Counties saw a record 31 inches of snow in a single 24-hour period, making the streets very difficult to plow and resulting in an extended county-wide travel ban. During the storm and the immediate aftermath, normal daily activity came to a standstill, as schools were closed for days, and  business, and government offices were shuttered, while local and country DPW crews worked around the clock trying to clear roadways to make them navigable. Parts of the Mohawk Valley were hit by nearly three feet of snow, with snowfall rates approaching six inches per hour in some areas during the peak of the storm. Many school districts were closed and there were reports of motorists forced to abandon their cars on roadways. New York State and local officials are still evaluating the extent of the damage, but it is expected that the total costs will be substantial, between overtime for plow drivers, sanding the roads, and repairing other general damage across the area.

As costs continue to mount for municipalities, federal assistance from FEMA could be vital. We are grateful for the prompt attention that the federal government has historically given to quickly responding to disasters impacting New York State. In that spirit, we strongly urge you to support any forthcoming requests for FEMA assistance as New York recovers from this storm.?


Charles E. Schumer

United States Senator

Kirsten E. Gillibrand

United States Senator