Rep. Schiff Introduces Legislation to Ensure Cities Can Qualify for Federal Disaster Relief After Major Storms

Washington, DC – Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) introduced legislation to fix the problems that Pasadena and other cities in the Southern California faced in qualifying for federal disaster relief from the devastating windstorms of November and December 2011. Currently, small and medium sized communities located in large states like California have a particularly difficult time reaching the state-wide and county-wide thresholds needed to qualify for federal disaster relief. This legislation would direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to take into account the ability of small and medium sized communities in large counties and in large states to recover from natural disasters.

“After the windstorms last year, communities across our region were unable to access essential federal disaster relief merely because they are in a large county and state,” said Rep. Schiff. “Natural disasters strike communities indiscriminately, but federal law need not be so capricious. We need to reform the process so that small and medium sized cities in more populous states like California are not penalized when it comes to disaster aid. While it will not help the Foothills recoup money from the last storm, it will hopefully prevent that from happening to these and other communities in the future."

“The December windstorms in Pasadena cost the community over $14 million in damages at a time when we could least afford it,” said Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard. “While we thought that we were deserving of federal disaster assistance, our level of damages did not meet current FEMA thresholds. We are pleased that this measure would make it more equitable for areas like Pasadena – small and medium-sized communities in high population states – when they are seeking vital disaster assistance in the future. We are grateful for Congressman Schiff’s efforts on these important matters and offer him our full support.”

Specifically, the bill would direct FEMA to take into account more than just the county-wide per capita threshold in evaluating a governor’s request under the “localized impacts” factor in the federal regulations. FEMA would consider the damage suffered by communities with less than 25,000 people and up to 250,000 people located in counties with at least 1 million people in states with at least 5 million people, if the damage sustained by those communities is in excess of 10 percent of the communities’ General Fund or if the damage exceeds $100 per capita in those communities. In Pasadena alone, the damage was estimated to be $125 per capita.

This legislation would make it easier for FEMA to award federal disaster relief under the expanded “localized impacts” criteria for a small number of communities that fail to receive federal disaster relief if they do not meet the state-wide and county-wide damage threshold levels because the calculation of these thresholds on a per capita basis punishes these communities for being located in large counties in large states. It would help make it much easier for communities, such as Pasadena and Glendale, to receive federal disaster relief if they were to suffer levels of damage similar to what our communities saw in the wake of the windstorm.