U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to approve any request from New York State for a major disaster declaration as the potential holiday weekend blizzard begins to touch down in Western NY and communities across Upstate NY. The senators said that current forecasts of snow, extremely high winds, freezing rain, and rapidly dropping temperatures creates potentially very dangerous conditions, especially around such a peak travel time due to the holiday weekend.
“Buffalo, Western NY and communities across New York State are expecting a rapidly intensifying blizzard and dangerous conditions as we enter the holiday weekend and it is absolutely crucial that they have resources they need to recover and weather this storm,” said Senator Schumer. “FEMA needs to stand ready to swiftly approve any forthcoming requests from the state for assistance to help these communities quickly recover and endure the storm.”
“Over the next few days, Western New Yorkers will weather dangerously low temperatures, poor travel conditions, severe storm surges, and heavy wind gusts expected to lead to widespread power outages,” said Senator Gillibrand. “Ahead of this storm of potentially historic proportions, FEMA must be prepared to immediately send any aid requested by the state in order to keep our communities safe through the storm and allow them to recover quickly from any damage.”
New York State has already declared a State of Emergency for the entire State of New York in advance of a significant winter weather system forecast beginning Thursday evening and continuing through Monday, and the City of Buffalo has also issued a State of Emergency ahead of the storm.
If a disaster declaration is requested and 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. After any severe storm, 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. Schumer and Gillibrand urged FEMA to be prepared to support any requests for aid from New York State.
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.
A copy of Schumer and Gillibrand’s letter appears below:
Dear Administrator Criswell:
We write in strong support of communities in New York ahead of what is predicted to be a “once in a generation” storm. We urge the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to stand ready, if requested, to work with affected counties and New York State to respond to the impacts of this storm and if the state requests it, to make assistance available through a pre-disaster declaration as expeditiously as possible.
Days ahead of the impact, forecasters are already warning this will be an extremely powerful winter storm. The rain is expected to begin today, Thursday, with winds picking up and rain falling throughout the night. On Friday, the temperature is expected to drop significantly, causing a flash freeze across the soaked ground and possibly taking down tree limbs. The rain will transition to snow as temperatures drop, with winds expected to reduce visibility to almost nothing. Overnight, the forecast predicts the snow will be extremely heavy with wind gusts up to 65 miles per hour. This could down powerlines and place many Western New Yorkers in danger.
Snow and winds are expected to continue through Saturday and Sunday, with relief not anticipated to come until Monday. As of midday on Wednesday, the National Weather Service had already issued a winter storm watch for much of Western New York, including Niagara, Orleans, Erie, Genesee, Wyoming, Chautauqua, and Cattaraugus counties. With so many New Yorkers and visitors planning to travel ahead of the holiday weekend, we urge FEMA to stand ready to approve any pre-disaster declaration request that may come from New York State, and provide any and all assistance available to New Yorkers should the storm impact New York.
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 approve any forthcoming requests for FEMA assistance from New York State as affected communities begin their recovery from these storms.