- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Star Press, Muncie. April 5, 2014.

FEMA seems to be no friend to hardship

Many government officials … across the state are likely asking themselves if the winter of 2014 will ever end. Sure, the snow has long since melted, but the bills from plowing snow, treating roads and hauling away the white stuff remain.

Don’t count on federal help to pay a portion of the tab. Last week, the Federal Emergency Management Agency notified officials in 49 Indiana counties that a request for assistance was denied for a snowstorm in early January that dumped 10 inches of snow, resulted in seven deaths and was followed by days of sub-zero cold.

The storm, because of its size and intensity, was not one typically encountered during an Indiana winter. That’s why FEMA’s rules regarding assistance ought to be reviewed and changed, because the agency does not seem to be following its core mission of helping states recover from disasters.

FEMA should be ashamed,” tweeted Muncie Mayor Dennis Tyler about the decision. Indeed, it should be. Delaware County has about $813,000 in weather-related expenses. Allen County (Fort Wayne) had $885,000. All told, local governments had requested $14.5 million in assistance. That’s a large expense that local governments will have to absorb. That’s money that can’t be spent on repairing roads and other infrastructure, or replacing worn-out equipment.

One has to wonder why FEMA is so stingy when it comes to helping cities and towns recover from severe hardships. FEMA also denied assistance for Howard County (Kokomo) and five other counties last year after a series of flood and tornado damages.

Maine was denied disaster funds after an ice storm last December caused millions in expenses. FEMA also denied disaster assistance for the town of West, Texas, after a fertilizer plant there exploded and killed 15 people. The decision was later reversed.

We get that winter means there will be cold and snow will fly. Local governments budget a reasonable amount to pay for salt, equipment and overtime to keep roads clear, but it would not be fiscally prudent for them to budget for extraordinary storms or an extraordinary winter, which is exactly what happened.

And we get that not every big snow demands a handout from the federal government. But this is different. This was not a small storm. It impacted everybody in central and northern Indiana well beyond 48 hours, the cutoff that FEMA looks at when evaluating snowstorm costs.

Although Indiana will appeal FEMA’s decision, it’s uncertain whether FEMA will change its mind.

Going forward, it’s clear the rules that determine disaster eligibility for winter weather need to be re-evaluated and changed to make a federal agency that is supposed to help communities recover, do exactly that.

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Journal & Courier, Lafayette. April 5, 2014.

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