Governor Wolf Criticizes FEMA Denial of Western PA Disaster Declaration Request Appeal

October 15, 2018

Harrisburg, PA – Governor Tom Wolf issued the following statement in response to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s denial of the July 2018 appeal for a major disaster declaration for damages from western Pennsylvania’s February through April severe weather that included flooding and landslides:

“The federal government chose to ignore geological experts’ information regarding the cumulative damage from multiple western Pennsylvania storms and resultant landslides,” Gov. Wolf said. “The commonwealth provided extensive information on the likelihood that the damage from these storms and landslides was related; it appears FEMA chose to ignore that evidence and has denied the appeal submitted.

“This string of severe storms and series of landslides across much of western Pennsylvania stretched our commonwealth resources well beyond their limits, causing stress on local budgets, too. I vowed to appeal after the initial request denial, which we did, only to be faced with a second denial.

“Federal assistance exists to help after state and local resources are overextended and that was most definitely the case for this continuous stretch of unprecedented weather and geologic events that devastated much of Allegheny and Westmoreland counties in winter and early spring and early summer.

“FEMA chose to look at this string of severe landslides as separate incidents. And therefore, none of the landslides individually would meet the threshold for a declaration. FEMA ignored the fact, however, that these landslides were relentless. Damage and costs escalated with each subsequent storm. Geological experts agreed the landslides were connected as ‘a historic and unprecedented singular geological event’.”

The total costs associated with the request, which was sent in late June, was $22 million.

A major disaster declaration through the Federal Emergency Management Agency provides federal funding to local, county and state governments, as well as certain eligible non-profits in those counties through the Public Assistance program. Applicants can be reimbursed up to 75 percent of the costs incurred on eligible expenses, which can include but are not limited to: payroll, contracts, repairs to damaged or destroyed infrastructure, equipment rentals and materials.

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