Washington, DC – In response to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) decision to deny the state of Illinois’ request for public assistance following the devastating storms on November 17, 2013, U.S. Reps. Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis, John Shimkus, Aaron Schock, Cheri Bustos, and Bill Enyart Thursday introduced bipartisan legislation to bring fairness to the FEMA disaster declaration process.
“When a disaster hits a small town, it affects everybody because of the close ties of the community, yet we see these towns being penalized due to an unfair formula that favors bigger cities,” said Kinzinger. “Our formula for distributing federal disaster resources should be based on where the need is greatest, not arbitrary population numbers, and this legislation does just that.”
On November 17th, 2013 the community of Washington Illinois was devastated by an EF4 Tornado, damaging or destroying over 1,100 homes. the federal Public Assistance disaster declaration request was denied because Illinois' population numbers raise the threshold for federal assistance.
"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," said Mayor Gary Manier, City of Washington.
"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."
The FEMA formula has caused problems for devastation-affected Illinois families in years past.
“Time and time again we’ve seen FEMA deny downstate communities from receiving federal assistance following storms,” said Davis. “Gifford and Washington are two of the most recent examples, but just two years ago Harrisburg in Southern Illinois was denied as well. It simply isn’t right when a storm leaves behind damage in Missouri, Illinois and Kentucky and the only communities to be denied federal assistance are in Illinois. The current system puts downstate and rural communities at a strong disadvantage, and that has to change.”
“Downstate Illinois is disadvantaged when disasters strike, due to our population upstate," said Shimkus. "This legislation helps to address that problem and would allow communities like Gifford and Brookport, who were hit by tornadoes last year, a chance to be eligible for FEMA Public Assistance. A million dollars to Chicago may not matter much, but it does to my constituents.”
"The initial denial by FEMA for a Public Assistance disaster declaration for Illinois' most recent disaster is unacceptable,” said Schock. “That decision was based on a flawed system which disadvantages the small and rural communities trying to recover from the devastating emotional and economic impact of the November storms. The City of Washington, IL and the surrounding areas have independently demonstrated the case for disaster assistance. With more than 500 homes destroyed in Tazewell County alone and accumulated public damages assessed in excess of $20 million, there is simply no excuse for the federal government not to provide the most robust amount of assistance possible."
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 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 will provide more certainty to states and small communities impacted by disasters by giving FEMA a clearer, more substantive formula when evaluating disaster areas. This bill assigns a specific weight to each of the factors already used by FEMA, and adds other economic factors for the agency to consider when determining whether or not a disaster area should receive federal assistance. Below is the formula breakdown for public assistance specified in the legislation and a description of each factor currently used by FEMA:
- 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 bill 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.