Senator Doug Steinhardt (R-23) issued the following update on the FEMA Disaster Designation:
FEMA has two programs to assist in declarations of emergency. One is public assistance (PA) for infrastructure damage, e.g., roads, bridges, and stream repairs. The other is individual assistance (IA) for individual homeowner losses. The criteria for both public and individual assistance is set exclusively by the federal government.
For public assistance, the threshold is $16M of otherwise uncovered losses. That means if there is federal highway or other insurance money available to cover the loss, it doesn't count toward the $16M.
For individual assistance the formula is much more complicated and looks at things like State demographics (such as wealth and employment, how many homes were destroyed (not just damaged), a "disaster impacted population profile," a factor called "impact to community infrastructure," the number of casualties (deaths), disaster related unemployment, and things like the State's home ownership rate, GDP, poverty rate, general unemployment data, and other elements. Unlike public assistance, FEMA makes the formula for individual assistance complex, fluid, and difficult to meet.
To complicate things more for all of us here in Warren County, only Warren County was declared a disaster area, which means that Warren County alone bears the burden of meeting FEMA's thresholds for public and individual assistance. By comparison, when Hurricane Sandy blew through New Jersey in 2012, the entire State was declared a disaster area, so all 21 counties and 9 million residents could add their losses together to meet the PA and IA thresholds. Unfortunately for Warren County, FEMA doesn't scale down its thresholds just because the disaster impacted only one county and its 100,000 residents. I know it doesn't seem fair by comparison, but those are the rules FEMA applies and that's the framework in which we have to operate.
As a result, the storms were severe enough that Warren County exceeded the $16M in uncovered public losses. It is also why everyone has engaged in such an effort to collect data on individual losses, and why it's so important that people submit their individual information on the DamageNJ website.
Unfortunately, for those most impacted and still displaced by the storms, even with all the data the County has collected and individuals have submitted so far, FEMA tells us that we are way short of the threshold for individual assistance and the monetary relief that comes with it. The fact that it's just us, alone, who has to meet the IA burden, coupled with things like the localized impact of the storms (in other words not every town was impacted by the weather or the same way) and New Jersey's general demographics, is making it very difficult for us to qualify for FEMA's individual assistance program.
Still, collecting all that data isn't a useless exercise. As recently as Friday last week the County was exploring USDA programs that compensate homeowners for infrastructure losses and storm mitigation. There are State programs that, while not as broad as FEMA, offer relief to impacted homeowners. Moreover, there are other programs and measures that the County, State, and Congressman Kean's office are exploring daily to identify losses and bring help.
No one, at any level of local, county, state or federal government is giving up trying to bring relief to Warren County's impacted families. I still encourage anyone with losses to fill out the DamageNJ information. If for any reason you can't access it or it's closed, contact your local OEM, the County OEM, your representatives, or me at my Senate Office: 908-835-0552. I know this has been long and exhausting, but we will continue to explore every available resource to help those who need it most.