Pa. Gov. Unveils Letter to Congressional Delegation Regarding Flood Relief

Pennsylvania Gov. Edward Rendell this week released the following letter to the Pennsylvania Congressional delegation in reference to flood relief for the Commonwealth:

Dear Senator Santorum:

“As a follow up to our recent conversation regarding on-going flood
recovery issues, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency raised several important issues that require congressional support.

In general, corrections would require a change in existing federal law and/or a supplemental appropriation in support of flood repairs that fall outside the jurisdiction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The issues include:

* Federal assistance to repair public property damage in certain counties –

Federal disaster recovery help is currently available for residents and
businesses located within 54 Pennsylvania counties. That number may increase as additional flood impact information becomes known. Federal assistance to repair public property damage (i.e. roads and bridges, water and sewer treatment systems, public buildings, fire company losses, etc.) has been requested but not yet authorized.

While it is likely that most of the 54 counties will be approved for this important federal aid, several counties that suffered significant damage may be denied assistance due to a regulatory technicality. Federal regulations 44 CFR 350 identifies a per capita cost factor as one of the standards used to determine eligibility for federal disaster assistance.

In order for federally declared counties to be eligible for public property damage assistance, the total eligible dollar loss must exceed $1.10 per capita based on the state population. Under the current disaster series, that amount is $13.4 million. Then each affected county must have suffered eligible damage in excess of $2.77 per capita based on the county population.

The first of the series of storm events and federally declared major
disaster occurred on August 1, 2004. Severe flooding impacted Delaware, Montgomery, and Philadelphia counties. These same counties suffered damage in September due to Tropical Depression Jeanne. While Delaware and Philadelphia counties had damage to public property that exceeds the county per capita requirements, the overall state per capita was not met. We are trying to satisfy that requirement by adding counties which also suffered loss.

Given the fact that over two months Pennsylvania and its communities suffered public property damage approaching $100 million, with the counties in question already declared a federal disaster area twice, refusing federal aid to repair several million dollars in otherwise eligible flood damage due to a regulatory
technicality is hard to understand. I urge you to impress upon Secretary Ridge and Under Secretary Mike Brown the importance of moving forward with the recovery for all who need help.

* Limits on flood victim home repair funding –

Under the Robert T. Stafford Act (P.L. 93-288 as amended), FEMA
administers a federal grant program to make essential repairs to flood damaged homes so that victims can remain in their residences while long-term repairs are made. Prior to 2000, the grant cap was $10,000 per household. The federal Disaster Mitigation Act of 2000 amended the Robert T. Stafford Act of 1988. While the intent was to increase the home repair cap to $15,000, it was actually reduced to $5,000.

The net affect is that there is less money to make repairs while more money is spent providing rental assistance. This is certainly not in the best interests of the victims. Congressman Steve LaTourette (R-OH) introduced H.R. 3181 (the Predisaster Mitigation Program Reauthorization Act of 2003) to correct this mistake. It passed the House in November 2003 and is in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

* Hazard Mitigation Grant Program funding cut –

The Hazard Mitigation Grant Program provides federal matching grants
following a major disaster declaration to help break the cycle of disasters.

Over the past 10 years, Pennsylvania’s communities have been able to acquire approximately 1,000 flood prone homes and restore the land to its pre-developed state. Many of these former home sites were flooded again this year. For years, the federal grant formula had been based on 15% of what FEMA spends in the disaster recovery effort.

As part of the FY 2003/2004 federal budget, Congress cut the formula to 7.5%. Based on the estimated cost of the 2004 declared disasters, this change in the formula will reduce Pennsylvania’s opportunities for meaningful mitigation measures by an estimated $18 million. The flooding of 2004 has triggered a significant interest in buyouts
statewide. This limited federal funding will dramatically reduce our ability to break the cycle of disasters in many communities. H.R. 3181 also addresses this issue.

* Stream restoration –

The torrential rains associated with the four storms this year that
resulted in Presidential Disaster Declarations caused extensive damage to waterways. Ranging from stream bank erosion, damage to flood control measures and excessive sediment buildup, these conditions represent a real threat of future flooding to the land, as well as structures in many communities.

Under a provision of the Robert T. Stafford Act, FEMA is prohibited from funding repairs or restoration work which falls under separate federal authority. Stream damage and the related repairs is actually the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). However, the USDA Natural Conservation Resources Service has no funding to address this need.

As a result, serious waterway damage that is clearly eligible under the federal disaster declaration will not be addressed. This constitutes a continuing threat to homes, businesses and public property along and near these damaged waterways. I urge Congress to secure supplemental funding for the USDA’s Natural Conservation Resources Service to allow for this important work to be accomplished.

* Roadway damage to the Federal Highway Administration’s federal aid system –

The conditions described above regarding waterway damage also applies to damage to roads that fall under the federal aid system administered by the Federal Highway Administration. The Public Assistance program as authorized by the Robert T. Stafford Act provides 75% reimbursement to repair damage to public roads and bridges damaged by flooding within designated counties. The
exception is roads that have been designated as part of the federal aid
system. These repairs fall under the Federal Highway Administration. It is my understanding that these repairs may not be made due to funding issues within the Federal Highway Administration.

All of the above represent serious issues affecting Pennsylvania’s
immediate and long-term disaster recovery efforts. On behalf of the more than 20,000 flood victims and 2,000 impact communities, I urge prompt action to address these issues.”