Those hoping to receive financial relief for property damage following last month’s flooding may need to continue to do just that — hope.
That’s the ugly truth when it comes to homeowners anticipating funds to recover, according to a county official familiar with federal relief and the high threshold for assistance with losses on private property.
But when it comes to municipal and county needs related to emergency response and damages arising from February’s widespread flooding, the possibility of receiving federal funds may not be guaranteed, but the picture is not as bleak as for private property owners.
Following a meeting with municipal leaders earlier this month, the Scioto County Emergency Management Agency (EMA) has been conducting a Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA) for costs associated with the government response and recovery following flooding along the Ohio and Scioto rivers and from flooding that occurred Feb. 14-25.
Each county tracks the costs for emergency protection measures, clean up and damage to roads and bridges to see if financial reimbursement help might be available from the state or federal government. If counties and the state meet a certain threshold of damage, then the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will look at government documentation for the flood emergency and could supply financial help for governments to recoup costs necessary for the day-to-day operations of the jurisdiction.
Scioto County EMA requested costs for cleanup, road maintenance and repairs, and emergency response from the townships, villages, and city and county departments to see if the local threshold of $293,000 would be met following the early March meeting. If so, and the state meets a $17 million threshold and FEMA verifies the costs through documentation, a Public Assistance Declaration will be made to cover the government costs for specified counties who meet the criteria.
The PDA saw local jurisdictions turn in more than $4 million in costs for response and recovery. It appears Ohio may have met the $17 million threshold, and FEMA was requested to come to Ohio to review documentation next week. Each jurisdiction that submitted a Public Assistance Damage Assessment Summary form to Scioto County EMA will meet with FEMA representatives March 22 to review documentation. In a prepared statement, Scioto County Commissioners expressed hope jurisdictions will be able to recoup a portion of the flood emergency costs in this economically depressed area of Ohio.
County Commissioners declared a local declaration of emergency on Feb. 19 when rivers were rising, and state help was requested for mitigating losses and response to protect lives and property. Gov. John Kasich initially declared Scioto County in a Governor’s declaration, then declared some 17 other river counties eligible for state assistance Feb. 24.
Kim Carver, Scioto County EMA director, says, “While we are hopeful we will be able to get financial relief for townships, villages, and the city and county, criteria will not be met for scope of damage to private homes and businesses that would free up federal money for repairs and rebuilding.”
Carver explains that FEMA has dramatically changed the scope of damage required for private property owners “to where it makes it almost impossible to meet criteria for grants and low-interest loans anymore.”
In an Individual Damage Assessment conducted locally, some 78 homes were identified with some impact. Four homes suffered “major category” damages. Four homes were minor, and the remaining damage met the affected category which included private access issues.
“In the ‘90s and early 2000s, we received multiple FEMA Individual Assistance Declarations for help for people in the flood event,” Carver recalls. “Now, it almost takes Hurricane Katrina-type damage of a hundred [homes] destroyed and a hundred with major damage. And what qualifies as ‘major damage’ has greatly changed, too. You can have eight feet of water in your basement and it is categorized as ‘affected.’ More than two feet of water in the first floor living quarters is now considered only ‘minor’ category damage. Greater than two feet on the first floor living quarters is considered ‘major’ category and any water in trailer homes is generally major damage category.
“To be considered in the ‘destroyed’ category, it has to have foundation compromised and structural integrity compromised. All the changes in scope of damage and numbers of damaged property make it nearly impossible for federal help anymore.”
Carver says that with all that in mind, EMA will hold an Unmet Needs Committee meeting Monday with local social service partners such as Red Cross, Salvation Army, Scioto County Ministerial Association, Community Action Organization, and Job and Family Services to ascertain what local help might be able to be plugged in to help the dozens “who lost their access bridge or who had water on their first floor and flooring needs replaced maybe.”
Carver also says it is unfortunate that the only help some might receive is from the disaster funds presently being administered through the Scioto County Job and Family Services for people who meet guidelines with children in the home or some elderly.
“I’m sure there will be people who fall through the cracks and don’t get the help they need,” she admits. “It is unfortunate that more help is not available in times like these.”