U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand urged President Biden to approve the Emergency declaration for New York communities impacted by the deadly holiday weekend blizzard still raging across Western New York and other communities across Upstate.
“The holiday weekend blizzard is still raging through Buffalo and communities across New York, causing severe damage to infrastructure, power outages, and tragically the loss of life of life for at least 27 New Yorkers. This once in a generation blizzard has already brought nearly four feet of snow, hurricane force winds, and many are still without power,” said the senators. “We are asking FEMA to promptly approve the Emergency declaration and urgently needed federal assistance for state and local governments. We need to get Western New York and other communities severely impacted by this deadly storm the resources they need to rebuild and recover.”
New York State declared a State of Emergency for the entire State of New York in advance of a significant winter weather system forecast. Throughout the storm, tens of thousands were left without power over the holiday weekend in Western New York and across Upstate. The storm hit Buffalo especially hard with nearly 4 feet of snow and hurricane-force winds that reached 70 miles per hour causing whiteout conditions that made road conditions nearly impossible and halting emergency response efforts. Massive snowdrifts caused damage to critical energy infrastructure, leaving over 17,000 residents, mostly in the City of Buffalo, still without power. Tragically, there have been at least 27 reported deaths related to the storm in Upstate and Western New York, including one carbon monoxide fatality due to snowed in furnace vents.
If an Emergency 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. 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 Major Disaster declaration. While that assessment is underway, New York State has just submitted an application for an Emergency declaration, which allows the State to seek reimbursement for emergency protective measures – like getting medical help to those in dire need. Schumer and Gillibrand urged FEMA to be prepared to support this Emergency declaration request, as well as any future Major Disaster declaration request, that will provide aid for 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 President Biden,
We write to respectfully urge your swift consideration and authorization of Governor Hochul’s request for an Emergency declaration for the State of New York in the wake of Winter Storm Elliott on Buffalo, Western New York, and across Upstate New York, following up on our two letters of support to the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) ahead of the worst of the storm. Such a declaration under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act (PL 100-707) would unlock crucial FEMA resources and assets that will aid the State, first responder, and community efforts to protect human life, property, and infrastructure.
Since December 22 and over the holiday weekend, New Yorkers across the state have endured severe high winds gusting over 70 miles per hour, record levels of snowfall, and extreme cold – especially in the Buffalo metropolitan area, Western New York, and the North Country. More than 17,000 of our constituents remain without power as of noon on December 26, and nearly 27,000 were without electricity in Erie County on Christmas morning. The snow and winds led to whiteout conditions, blinding drivers and causing accidents, which have resulted in arterial roadways blocked by trapped vehicles. First responders and emergency workers are continue to face a myriad of challenges, including these blocked roads, as well as ongoing whiteout conditions, and severely damaged to infrastructure. Tragically, as of December 26, there have been at least 27 reported deaths related to the storm in New York. With snow continuing to fall, and intense cold lingering in the region, New Yorkers need federal help now.
New York State government and local first responders have fully committed their manpower and resources in response to Winter Storm Elliot, and we commend them for their bravery and heroic effort ensure public safety and save lives, many working continuously over the holiday weekend. However, because of white out conditions and the danger to our first responders some municipalities suspended emergency response efforts. For all of these reasons, Governor Hochul has requested a federal Emergency declaration for the areas of our state most deeply affected by this storm.
As families across New York wake up from the holiday weekend and look towards to beginning of the New Year, our first responders, search and rescue personnel, law enforcement, and state government employees will continue to work around the clock. We are grateful for the prompt attention that the federal government has historically give in responding to disasters impacting New York State. In that spirit, we strongly urge you to approve New York’s request for FEMA assistance as affected communities begin their recovery from this storm.