State Senators James Seward and Joseph Griffo on Friday announced a multi-prong strategy to assist local businesses and residents recover and rebuild from the late June and early July flooding that ravaged 15 counties.
Seward and Griffo said they joined with state Senators Hugh Farley and David Valesky to reiterate their request for a federal emergency declaration that would make available Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance to aid local governments, businesses and residents. They also said they worked with Farley and Valesky to prepare legislation to guide New York’s long-term recovery efforts from this and future natural disasters.
“Local emergency responders and elected officials have been working around the clock to provide for the safety and well-being of Mohawk Valley residents in the aftermath of devastating flooding. Now that the immediate threat has passed, it is essential that federal assistance is brought to bear to ensure that long-term costs don’t further overwhelm local governments, homeowners and businesspeople,” Seward, R – Oneonta, said during an afternoon press conference at the Herkimer Fire Department.
“We need to keep the pressure on our representatives in Washington to respond to our needs the same way they respond to concerns around the nation and the world,” said Griffo, R – Rome. “It’s difficult to tell U.S. residents that federal aid is unavailable to them when they see publicized reports of questionable spending such as the IRS spending $49 million at more than 200 conferences between 2010 and 2012.”
Seward said despite the enormity of the damage statewide, which has been estimated to pass the $26.7 million per capita threshold in the affected counties, the senators have received notification Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s request for a federal disaster declaration to assist the affected counties in their recovery efforts is potentially to be denied.
“We are requesting that an additional assessment and a thorough deliberation of the governor’s application be done before a final decision is made official,” he said.
Griffo said if a FEMA decision is negative, the senators request other federal resources be examined to help the affected counties repair their critical public infrastructure.
“Without FEMA funding, it’s unlikely the state will be able to restore the largest, most costly repairs to the counties’ damaged infrastructure in a timely manner,” he said.
“The county did not originally qualify for FEMA assistance after Tropical Storm Lee in 2011. It wasn’t until a reassessment took place that the county qualified for federal aid. The same could happen in this instance. That’s why I support the senators’ call for additional assessment by FEMA before a final decision on the governor’s request for a disaster declaration is made,” said Herkimer County Legislature Chairman Vincent Bono.
Cuomo has said he will call the state Legislature back to address the flooding if the federal government declines to issue a major disaster declaration.
Page 2 of 2 - “I am sure that in a $136 billion budget we will be able to rearrange some priorities in order to fill a line item to help our communities rebuild and recover,” said Seward.
“We stand at the ready to help in any way we are able,” said Griffo.
He said in addition to a special session of the Legislature, the senators request Cuomo convene a “flood summit” with the appropriate commissioners, state representatives, first responders, local elected officials and other people he believes might be helpful.
“The summit would address problems we have experienced in several flooding events in the past several years, discuss best practices and evaluate how the state and its federal and local partners can best protect the people we serve and continue to fine tune our response in the event of future disasters,” said Seward.
Griffo said in addition to pushing the federal government for full FEMA benefits, a comprehensive, forward-thinking strategy needs to be prepared to answer the state’s needs when a natural disaster storms and flooding between June 27 and July 3 strikes.
“Rather than being reactionary, the plan we have developed ensures that appropriate funding is available, workable regulatory policies are in place and a boots on the ground response can be quickly employed when Mother Nature strikes,” he said.
The senators’ six-point legislative plan includes the following components:
• A New York state flood and emergency relief fund to assist New York property owners when the federal government denies FEMA or other funding.
• A refundable state income tax credit against property taxes paid when homes and businesses have suffered damage that reduces their value.
• A state task force on flood prevention and mitigation with regional subcommittees to help communities plan and fund flood prevention measures on a regional basis.
• Enhanced funding through the environmental protection fund for soil and water conservation districts to help local governments plan improved storm water drainage and flood prevention efforts.
• National Guard directed and supported construction assistance in communities where flood mitigation measures have been identified.
• Requiring a simplified and expedited reimbursement process for the state share of any reimbursable flood-related costs by local governments. Failure to process reimbursements to a local government within 60 days would trigger bonus payments to local governments to cover their cost of borrowing to cover funding shortfalls.
“This is exactly the type of legislation that is needed to help communities rebuild,” said Bono. “Legislation like this will allow private homeowners to get the basics they need, whether it’s a new furnace, a new hot water tank or electrical repairs. It will also help our communities repair their roads and other infrastructure in the wake of natural disasters.”