Illinois Members Renew Bipartisan, Bicameral Effort To Bring Fairness To FEMA Disaster Declaration Process

[WASHINGTON, D.C.] – U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) today announced with  U.S. Representatives Rodney Davis (R-IL), Cheri Bustos (D-IL), John Shimkus (R-IL), Mike Bost (R-IL) and Adam Kinzinger (R-IL) the introduction of the Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act to reform the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) disaster declaration process and bring fairness to our small communities in larger states like Illinois.  Durbin and Kirk first introduced the bill in 2012 after FEMA denied federal assistance to Harrisburg and Ridgway following a devastating outbreak of storms and tornadoes.


“Changes to FEMA’s disaster declaration process can’t come soon enough for communities across Illinois and I am glad members of the Illinois delegation have joined together in support of this legislation,” said Durbin.   “We don’t know when the next severe weather event will strike, but we should be able to count on the federal government to provide assistance when it does.  It’s time to fix the broken metrics that FEMA uses to determine disaster assistance and bring some fairness back into the system so that people in Illinois are not unfairly punished for living in a populous state.” 


“Communities like Washington, Illinois, that have been devastated by natural disasters should not be ineligible for aid just because FEMA's methodology is outdated,” Senator Kirk said. “Having seen firsthand the damage that the 2013 tornadoes caused this community, I have continued to urge FEMA to reevaluate their methodology for determining aid, and will continue to work with my bipartisan colleagues to ensure that families are not stuck without help when it is most needed.”


“Time and time again we've seen FEMA deny downstate communities from receiving federal assistance following storms,” said Davis. “With the most recent examples being Gifford and Washington, but just a few 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.”


“The communities across our region of Illinois should receive fair treatment when it comes to qualifying for federal disaster assistance,” said Bustos. “This bipartisan effort will help ensure downstate Illinois communities are competing on a level playing field with other communities across the country when it comes to qualifying for the FEMA support they need to recover from natural disasters.”


“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 two years ago, a chance to be eligible for FEMA Public Assistance.  A million dollars to Chicago may not matter much, but it does to my constituents.”


“After a disaster strikes, the stress and uncertainty of those residents that are directly impacted weighs heavily on each person and worrying about not receiving Federal assistance just makes matters worse,” said Bost. “Every Illinoisan and every community in our state deserve fair treatment in deciding Federal assistance instead of relying on arbitrary formulas that are beyond the control of disaster victims.”


“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.”


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 2015 will provide more certainty and fairness 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. 


The formula breakdown for Public Assistance specified in the legislation and a description of each factor currently used by FEMA is below:


Estimated cost of the assistance (10%) - 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%) - The legislation would put greater weight on the damage assessment on a specific area, as opposed to statewide.


Insurance coverage in force (10%) - 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%) - 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%) - 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%) - FEMA would take into consideration whether or not other agencies will be contributing.


Other economic circumstances (10%) - 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%

Trauma – 20%

Special populations – 20%

Voluntary agency assistance – 10%

Insurance – 20%

Average of individual assistance– 5%

Economic considerations – 5%.