HARRISBURG – A flash flood that washes out only a small portion of a township can be just as devastating to a family or a community as a hurricane that rips through half the state, yet today’s disaster assistance programs fail to recognize that fact.
To help municipalities and flood victims cope with localized disasters, state Senator Lisa Baker (R-20) is pushing a bill to set up a state disaster assistance program. The program would give state grants to victims to assist with uninsured losses caused by flash floods, fires, snowstorms, tornadoes, landslides, hazardous material spills, and other emergencies, but fall below the state’s $16.5 million threshold for federal aid.
“Although judged to be ‘small’ by federal standards, these catastrophes wipe out homes, streets, bridges, and municipal budgets,” Baker said. “The state should play a role in helping communities recover. The gaps are hurting people who experience tremendous loss but don’t meet disaster guidelines.”
Under Senate Bill 1585, state assistance would be limited to grants to help repair damage to primary residences, personal property and public facilities. Debris removal would also be an eligible expense.
Twenty-five other states have established state disaster assistance programs, including New York, Florida, Virginia, Texas, California, and Tennessee.
Funding would come from the Johnstown Flood Tax, which was established in 1936 with the express purpose of aiding flood victims. Unspent money would be returned to the state budget.
During a September hearing hosted by the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, which Senator Baker chairs, leaders from the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, and other local officials testified to the need for such a program, and expressed their strong support for its establishment.
Contact: Jennifer Wilson