Overhaul of FEMA disaster funding rules needed for rural areas

Tornado RECC Loami 3-06 IMG_3822 copyGovernor Pat Quinn in February delivered the keynote address at the National Journal’s Natural Disaster Forum in Washington, D.C., where he discussed Illinois’ preparedness and response to several major ­natural disasters and called for needed changes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster aid criteria.

A tornado outbreak on Nov. 17, 2013 killed eight people, damaged or destroyed 2,500 homes and severely impacted the towns of Brookport, Gifford, New Minden, Diamond and Washington, Ill. The state was struck by 25 confirmed tornadoes in three hours during November. Despite requests from Illinois, FEMA denied request for federal assistance based on the existing federal criteria.

These recent disasters highlight the need to update FEMA’s ­criteria for awarding federal disaster aid. Legislation introduced in the U.S. House and Senate would bring more fairness to the federal disaster ­declaration process.

The Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act of 2014 will give FEMA a clearer, more substantive formula when evaluating disaster areas. It will modify a flawed system that places small and rural com­munities in highly populated states at a disadvantage.

Rural electric cooperatives are supportive of this effort. Without FEMA disaster funding ice storms, hurricanes and tornadoes can be financially ­devastating. Recently an Iowa electric co-op was denied and this raised concerns nationally among electric co-ops. Without this safety net one ice storm could “bankrupt” a small not-for-profit electric