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Susan Collins, Chellie Pingree Concerned FEMA Rule Could Limit Disaster Aid

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is considering adopting rules that will change the way it determines when states are eligible for disaster assistance, and members of Maine’s congressional delegation are concerned.

From 2004 through 2011, Maine received over $76 million in federal disaster aid from FEMA for both winter and summer storms. The money was used to help pay for cleanup, snow removal and the repair of damage to roads.

Maine’s most recent use of aid was for the blizzard of 2015, when the state got about $2.6 million.

In order for the state to qualify, it has to reach a threshold of nearly $1.9 million in damage. That number has not changed for years, and FEMA says it’s looking at changes to better reflect the ability of state and local governments to pay for storm damage to public facilities.

Adjusted for inflation, Maine’s threshold would go up to about $2.7 million. Using a per-capita adjustment, the threshold would go up to just over $4 million.

That worries U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican that serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“For FEMA to across-the-board shift more of the cost on to local communities, homeowners essentially, and states is a major policy change that needs far more review,” she says.

Collins says if FEMA needs to change the formula, it should seek a statutory change in Congress.

FEMA has been criticized by the federal Government Accountability Office for having an “artificially low” threshold for providing assistance. States and local governments already pick up part of the cost of cleanup after a major storm. For any declared disaster FEMA pays 75 percent of the recovery cost, the state pays for 15 percent and the local town or other applicant is responsible for the remaining 10 percent.

For example, the state’s share of the 2015 blizzard was just over half a million dollars of the total cost of about $3.5 million.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat from Maine’s 1st District who serves on the House Appropriations Committee, agrees with Collins that states and local governments often have trouble meeting their commitment under the current formula.

“We couldn’t sustain you know the cost, so I do think if FEMA is going to do a dramatic change in the ability to access aid will be much less, Congress should have a say over it and not just a rule,” she says.

FEMA has yet to issue a specific rule proposal, but both Collins and Pingree say if they do, there will be a lot of members of Congress in both the House and Senate and from both parties who will be very concerned about shifting disaster costs to the states and local governments.