When flooding devastated parts of Lower Bucks County last month, residents forced to leave their homes hoped for government financial help that simply never came.
While loans from the US Small Business Administration were made available to flood victims, including the dozens of tenants whose condos and apartments were condemned after the July 12 storm, only a fraction of those eligible have. makes a request.
They said that instead of taking out loans, they were not sure they could afford or even get approved as they needed direct help. Many have blamed Gov. Tom Wolf when federal grants, which unlike SBA loans do not need to be repaid, have not gone to victims – some who are still trying to recover and are living in hotels and other temporary accommodation.
The Wolf administration said the governor was worried and was doing all he could to help, but federal thresholds for help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were not being met and residents were not being met. would therefore not be eligible for individual and public aid grants.
Now he’s asking FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell to change his agency’s rules to get more funds for flood victims like Bucks. In a letter to Criswell, Wolf seeks a relaxation of the thresholds. He notes that flooding in Pennsylvania, despite devastation to individual homeowners and parts of communities, rarely meets federal thresholds for grant funds.
Wolf said flooding is one of the “biggest and most recurring hazards” statewide, and in 2019 alone, more than 5,200 homes in Pennsylvania were damaged by flooding.
None of these incidents reached the level necessary to qualify for a federal disaster declaration, which could then open a FEMA assistance grant to affected residents.
Wold said that while SBA loans are helpful, additional assistance is needed.
“Significant gaps remain when socially vulnerable populations cannot qualify for loans when these localized events do not meet federal damage assessment thresholds,” part of Wolf’s letter read. “I ask that you consider lowering the federal damage assessment thresholds required for these localized events to qualify for federal assistance, particularly individual assistance.
“Assessing impacts only at a micro level to the municipal or county level only, rather than towards a statewide assessment, would provide a more realistic assessment of the impacts on this community. “
How FEMA Assistance Works Now
Currently, in order to receive a Federal Disaster Declaration for Individual Aid, which provides money through grants directly to landlords and tenants, and state aid for government entities and some qualifying nonprofits, l The state is expected to meet certain thresholds for the number of homes that fall under the major damage or destroyed classification, as well as other stipulations specified by FEMA.
Additionally, counties must meet individual thresholds based on population, and the state as a whole must meet a threshold of $ 19.6 million in public damages before they can qualify for FEMA assistance.
Counties must also meet individual thresholds based on population, and the state as a whole must meet a threshold of $ 19.6 million in public damages before they can qualify for FEMA assistance.
Wolf said the threshold was unrealistic and failed to meet the on-the-ground needs of county residents still struggling with the fallout from a series of debilitating storms in July on Bucks and other parts of the state.
A summer storm stopped over Lower Bucks and dumped about 6-10 inches of torrential rain and damaged hundreds of properties in what the National Weather Service called a 100-year flood. More than 500 houses were damaged, including more than 100 houses that remained uninhabitable.
Wolf, in his letter, pointed out that it is these types of localized storms that wreak havoc on the Pennsylvanians. He said a lower threshold would better take into account the devastating personal losses of residents during these weather events.
“While these short-lived, high-intensity precipitation events cause significant damage and impacts to human lives, these localized incidents rarely meet the thresholds required for federal disaster assistance, many of which do not. flood insurance, ”Wolf wrote.
He also noted that “data collected since 1993 has shown that 96% of flooding incidents in Pennsylvania reported to the National Weather Service have occurred outside of established flood plains.”
Flash floods, tornadoes, storms, hail:Severe July weather set records for Bucks
While barriers remain for those seeking relief from FEMA, Wolf said assistance to businesses and residents of Bucks County is available through low-interest loans from the SBA.
Loans of up to $ 200,000 are available to homeowners and tenants to repair or replace damaged or destroyed real estate, and the bylaws also allow loans of up to $ 40,000 to repair or replace damaged personal property. , including vehicles.
Businesses and nonprofits can borrow up to $ 2 million to restore damaged or destroyed buildings, inventory, equipment, and other physical losses.
Economic disaster loans are also available and can also be used to pay fixed debts, salaries, accounts payable and other bills that cannot be paid due to the impact of the disaster, which the whether or not the company suffered physical damage from the storm.
However, as of August 10, few had turned to the SBA’s loan program for help. By that time, 56 requests had been received, for a total of $ 395,300, according to an SBA spokesperson.
Bucks County Residents can access the Administration’s online portal apply for these loans.