Senators Say Major Disaster Declaration Would Unlock Federal Funds for Impacted Counties Beginning To Recover From Heavy Rains That Ravaged Hudson Valley And Upstate NY Via ‘Once In A Thousand Year’ Flood Event
Schumer, Gillibrand: Feds Must Provide Resources To Hudson Valley And Upstate Communities To Get On Road To Recovery ASAP
Following their calls earlier this week, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer and U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand today urged President Biden to approve the Major Disaster declaration for New York communities impacted by the severe flash flooding that has rampaged through the Hudson Valley and communities across Upstate New York. The senators said New York State has requested hazard mitigation assistance statewide, Individual Assistance for Ontario and Orange counties, and Public Assistance for Albany, Clinton, Dutchess, Essex, Hamilton, Ontario, Orange, Oswego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, and Westchester counties.
“This past week, communities in the Hudson Valley, and across Upstate New York from the Finger Lakes to the North Country were battered by heavy downpours that caused historic levels of flooding, widespread damage, and tragically, at least one death. This once in a generation flooding has devastated New York and caused extensive damage to homes, businesses, and transportation infrastructure,” said Senator Schumer. “I urge President Biden to promptly approve the Major Disaster declaration and unlock crucial FEMA resources and assets that will aid the State, first responders, and community efforts to recover in the coming months and years. With the water receding and the storm behind us, New Yorkers are looking at how to rebuild, and this declaration is the next step in getting New Yorkers the help they need to do exactly that.”
“From the Hudson Valley to the North Country to the Finger Lakes, communities across Upstate New York suffered the devastating effects of a 1000-year rain event and the subsequent flash flooding that caused incredible damage to the environment, homes and businesses,” said Senator Gillibrand. “It is critical that these communities receive robust federal funding to help rebuild. I am calling on President Biden to swiftly approve the Major Disaster declaration for these communities in order to deliver FEMA funds to state and local governments, nonprofits and first responders assisting in the response effort.”
On July 10th, New York State declared a State of Emergency in Orange and Ontario counties. The next day, the state expanded its emergency declaration to include Albany, Clinton, Dutchess, Essex, Hamilton, Oswego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, and Westchester counties. Earlier this week, rushing floodwaters caused widespread damage to houses and transportation infrastructure in parts of Orange, Rockland, Putnam, and northern Westchester counties, closing and collapsing some roadways and prompting emergency water rescue calls. In Orange County, a portion of US 6 near Fort Montgomery collapsed west of the Palisades Interstate Parkway. Route 9W and Route 218 from Cornwall to West Point were shut down due to severe flooding and damage, and Amtrak was forced to suspend its Empire Service train between New York City and Albany due to a washout on the tracks. Additionally, Metro North – Hudson Line train service was suspended between Croton-Harmon and Poughkeepsie due to the impact of severe weather on the tracks, with one train becoming stuck at Manitou Station in Garrision, forcing emergency responders to evacuate hundreds of terrified passengers. In some areas of the state, real time weather maps showed 8 to 10 inches of rain, nearly the amount that typically falls over an entire summer. These historic levels of rain in the village of Highland Falls near West Point destroyed roads, bridges, and other critical infrastructure making emergency response efforts difficult and stranding residents in need of immediate assistance. In the Adirondacks, the dam on Jennings Park Pond breached overnight, causing water to flood parts of the Long Lake community. Emergency officials closed the Route 30 bridge into Long Lake and Route 28 between Long Lake and Newcomb due to additional damage of roads and bridges, including the bridge over Fishing Brook in Newcomb, which was washed out. In Ontario County floods impacted nearly 100 homes and displaced residents. Sewage systems and water treatment plants have struggled to keep up with the massive amounts of water entering their systems, damaging and in some cases halting their operations.
If a Major 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. 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 the flooded 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 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 to POTUS appears below:
Dear President Biden,
We write to respectfully urge your swift consideration and authorization of the Major Disaster declaration request from Governor Hochul on behalf of the State of New York in the wake of the devastating flooding in the Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, and North Country of New York, and across the state. Specifically, for Ontario and Orange counties to receive Individual Assistance (IA) and Albany, Clinton, Dutchess, Essex, Hamilton, Ontario, Orange, Oswego, Putnam, Rensselaer, Rockland, and Westchester Counties to receive Public Assistance (PA). The Preliminary Damage Assessment is not done, and we support the inclusion of any additional counties inclusion that New York State believes meet the threshold for IA and PA. This is following our letter of support to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the storm’s immediate aftermath urging them to stand ready to support New York State’s response and recovery efforts. 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 responders, and community efforts to recover and rebuild in the coming months and years.
On July 9, 2023, the Hudson Valley region and much of southeastern New York was hit by up to eight inches of rain in less than 12 hours that caused catastrophic flash flooding, as well as the Finger Lakes and North Country regions where rain flooded homes, roads, and businesses. On July 9, New York Governor Kathy Hochul declared a State of Emergency for Orange County and Ontario County due to the impacts of the flooding. The following day, Governor Hochul expanded the state’s emergency declaration to include Clinton and Essex counties in the North Country, which comprises New York’s Adirondack region. Homes have been destroyed, roads and bridges washed away, and tragically at least one person has died. Highland Falls, home to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, has been hit particularly hard. Many roads in and out of the city have been damaged, including routes 218 and 9W from Cornwall to West Point, the Palisades Interstate Parkway, the Bear Mountain Bridge, and Popelopen Bridge. New York State Police advised that many of these road closures are expected to remain in effect for the foreseeable future. People were forced to swim to safety after becoming trapped in their cars on roadways. Rescue workers and first responders worked tirelessly throughout the night of July 9th and into July 10th to aid those in need, including completing more than 50 rescues in Orange County. Additionally, Metro North – Hudson Line train service was suspended for days between Croton-Harmon and Poughkeepsie due to the impact of severe weather on the tracks, with one train becoming stuck at Manitou Station in Garrision on Sunday night, forcing emergency responders to evacuate passengers. Furthermore, the Newburgh-Beacon Ferry service was not operational on Monday due to impacts of the storm. In Ontario County floods impacted nearly 100 homes and displaced residents. Sewage systems and water treatment plants have struggled to keep up with the massive amounts of water entering their systems, damaging and in some cases halting their operations.
With the floods behind us, New Yorkers are looking at how to rebuild, and while we know the Preliminary Damage Assessment process is underway, we urge your swift consideration and approval of the Major Disaster declaration request from Governor Hochul. The federal government must unlock the resources necessary to rebuild, and rebuild stronger, and this Major Disaster declaration is the next step in getting New Yorkers the help they need to do exactly that. We are grateful for the prompt attention that the federal government has historically given in responding to disasters impacting New York State. In that spirit, we strongly urge you to approve New York’s Major Disaster declaration request as affected communities begin their recovery from this storm.