November 16, 2019

Schumer, Gillibrand Urge FEMA To Prioritize & Immediately Complete Preliminary Damage Assessments For 18 Upstate Counties Ravaged By Windstorm, Flooding & Severe Weather

A Halloween Storm Battered Upstate NY, Severely Damaging Public Infrastructure, Private Property, & Flooding Roadway; Flood And Flash Flood Warnings Were Issued For 27 Counties Senators Call On FEMA To Complete Preliminary Damage Assessments For 18 Impacted Counties, The First Step In Unlocking Federal Recovery Funding; FEMA Will Begin Damage Assessments In State Next Week Schumer, Gillibrand To FEMA: Swiftly Complete Preliminary Damage Assessments To Help Upstate NY Recover From Severe Stor

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to expediently complete Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDAs) for both Public Assistance and Individual Assistance in 18 counties across Upstate New York—which are necessary to unlock federal recovery funding—after they were battered by severe storms and flooding from October 31st through November 1st. Specifically, New York State requested PDAs for Public Assistance in Chautauqua, Chenango, Clinton, Cortland, Erie, Essex, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego, Saratoga, Tioga and Warren Counties, as well as for Individual Assistance in Erie, Essex, Hamilton, Herkimer and Oneida Counties. The senators said FEMA will begin these PDA’s in state next week.

During this period, 12 counties received at least 3 inches of rain, which is nearly a month’s worth in most Upstate areas, and 27 counties received flood warnings and flash flood warnings. Furthermore, winds blew between 60 and 70 miles per hour, knocking down countless trees, destroying private property and leaving hundreds of thousands of Upstate New Yorkers without power. In the Mohawk Valley, hundreds of residents were evacuated and many properties remain uninhabitable The storm even tragically took the life of a priest in Herkimer County, who was trapped in his vehicle during one of the flash floods. The senators explained that to unlock critical recovery funding for the 18 counties who are still grappling with the aftermath of the storms, FEMA must complete the PDAs as soon as possible.

“Just two weeks ago, our state, from one corner to the other, saw severe damage after being ravaged by heavy rain, flooding and tempestuous winds. It is absolutely critical that we get these communities the aid they need and the first step is for FEMA to prioritize this damage and to complete preliminary damage assessments immediately,” said Senator Schumer. “This immense damage will total tens of millions of dollars in costs suffered and demands swift help from the feds to repair. FEMA needs to make these assessments the top priority in the nation and complete these PDAs as soon as humanly possible so that counties across the state can continue recovering and rebuilding.”

“Communities all across Upstate New York are still suffering from the extensive damage that the Halloween storms caused. The federal government has a responsibility to assist in the recovery efforts, and the first step to doing just that is ensuring that FEMA completes preliminary damage assessments as quickly as possible,” said Senator Gillibrand. “With 18 counties in our state requesting help, and with the estimated damage costs of these storms reaching tens of millions of dollars, our communities can’t afford to wait. I am urging FEMA to prioritize the recovery of our communities to provide them with the relief that they need.” 

After any severe storm, the first step in the federal disaster 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. 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 percent of the eligible costs for permanent and emergency work. 

The Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act authorizes the president to issue “major disaster” or “emergency” declarations before or after catastrophes occur. The decision to issue a disaster declaration is at the discretion of the president, and must be requested by the governor of the state. These declarations unlock federal aid through FEMA that is broken into two broad areas: Individual Assistance (IA) that aids families and individuals, and Public Assistance (PA) that is mainly for emergency work such as debris removal and permanent repairs to infrastructure. When assessing the degree of PA damage, FEMA considers six factors: estimated cost of the assistance, localized impact, insurance coverage, hazard mitigation, recent disaster, and programs of other federal assistance. Regarding the cost, FEMA has certain thresholds that have to be met to qualify for PA specific to the state and the counties in question. For New York, the current PA threshold for the state is a little less than $30 million, which each county must experience $3.84 of damager per capita in FY 2020.

Dear Acting Administrator:

We write to urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to expeditiously complete New York State’s Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDAs) for both Public Assistance and Individual Assistance in 18 counties across New York State impacted by severe storms and flooding from October 31st through November 1st, 2019.

After a deadly storm crossed Upstate New York around Halloween, wet weather produced conditions that devastated a large swath of the state. The assessment requested by New York State would determine the qualifying damage for Public Assistance in Chautauqua, Chenango, Clinton, Cortland, Erie, Essex, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Madison, Montgomery, Oneida, Otsego, Saratoga, Tioga and Warren Counties, as well as for Individual Assistance in Erie, Essex, Hamilton, Herkimer, and Oneida Counties. Areas in a dozen counties got at least 3 inches of rain, which is nearly a month’s worth in most Upstate communities. These downpours brought high winds and caused widespread flooding into November 1st, leading the National Weather Service to issue high wind warnings, as well as flood warnings and flash flood warnings for 27 counties in Upstate New York.  Tragically, a priest in Herkimer County was caught in his vehicle during one of these flash floods and was killed. With more than 240,000 buildings and homes without power at the peak, hundreds forced to evacuate and more than 50 roads closed, New York State deployed 200 members of the National Guard and New York Utilities were estimated to have had 5,000 workers engaged in damage assessment, response, and restoration efforts. Many homes and businesses in the Mohawk Valley remain uninhabitable, forcing residents to rely local assistance for shelter and food. As communities across Upstate New York continue their recovery from this unexpected and deadly storm, we urge FEMA to expeditiously complete New York State’s PDAs in the 18 counties listed above.

We are grateful for the prompt attention that the federal government has historically give in responding to disaster impacting New York State.  In that spirit, we strongly urge you to complete the state’s Public Assistance and Individual Assistance PDAs in 18 counties across New York State.

Sincerely,