Illinois Lawmakers Pushing For Changes To Federal Disaster Declarations
(KMOX) – Illinois’ congressional delegation wants to change the way federal disaster declarations are decided. That after FEMA denied disaster aid for communities hit by last November’s storms.
Congressman John Shimkus is among six congressman who introduced the bi-partisan legislation to quote, ”’finally bring fairness to the FEMA disaster declaration process.”’
Shimkus says “Downstate Illinois is disadvantaged when disasters strike, due to our population upstate.”
Illinois congressman Aaron Schock said the FEMA denial was based on a flawed system that disadvantages small and rural communities.
“On November 17th, 2013 our community was unbelievably devastated by an EF4 Tornado. We have over 1,100 homes damaged or destroyed,” said Mayor Gary Manier, City of Washington. “We were told that the Federal Government would be there to help us recover. Now we have learned our Public Assistance disaster declaration request to FEMA was denied because we did not have enough devastation. We discovered early on in this process that the formula for the State of Illinois was excessively high and based on our state’s population. This formula is a serious disadvantage to smaller communities who, regardless of the magnitude of the disaster, may never qualify for Federal Assistance. I am thrilled our members of Congress are working to right this wrong.”
According to a report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), FEMA already takes into account several factors when determining the need for Public and Individual Assistance. However, there is currently no standard to determine which factor is more important than another, which the Illinois delegation believes leads to a highly subjective and uncertain process that leaves states and communities in limbo for weeks as their application is considered.
The Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act of 2014 would give FEMA a more substantive formula for evaluating disaster areas, putting greater weight on the damage assessment on a specific area as opposed to the current method of using statewide populations figures.
- Estimated cost of the assistance (10 percent). Currently, this is the key component to FEMA’s declaration process, calculated at $1.35 times the state population. This legislation will make it less of a factor by weighing it significantly lower than localized impacts.
- Localized impacts (40 percent). The legislation would put greater weight on the damage assessment on a specific area, as opposed to statewide.
- Insurance coverage in force (10 percent). Currently, FEMA deducts the amount of insurance that should be held by a government and non-profits from the total eligible amount.
- Hazard mitigation (10 percent). If the cost of damage falls short of the cost of assistance threshold due to mitigation measures that lessened the disaster’s impact, FEMA will take this into consideration by doing a cost-benefit analysis.
- Recent multiple disasters (10 percent). FEMA would take any disasters occurring within the previous 12 months into consideration and evaluate the funds that the state has committed and their impact on the state and its residents.
- Programs of other Federal assistance (10 percent). FEMA would take into consideration whether or not other agencies will be contributing.
- Other economic circumstances (10 percent). Currently these are factors not considered by FEMA. This legislation would require FEMA to consider the local assessable tax base and local sales tax, the median income in comparison to the state, the poverty rate in comparison to the state, and the unemployment rate of the state in comparison to the national rate.
The formula breakdown for individual assistance would be:
- Concentration of damages – 20 percent;
- Trauma – 20 percent;
- Special populations – 20 percent;
- Voluntary agency assistance – 10 percent;
- Insurance – 20 percent;
- Average amount of individual assistance by state – 5 percent;
- Economic declarations – 5 percent.
The legislation is sponsored by U.S. Reps. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), John Shimkus (R-Ill.), Aaron Schock (R-Ill.), Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), and Bill Enyart (D-Ill.) It mirrors legislation introduced by U.S. Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) in 2012 but will be retroactive to include all storms that occurred in 2013.