Federal disaster assistance denied for July 9 storm that caused historic flash flooding

In a recent development, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has officially denied the request for a major disaster declaration for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, following a severe storm, straight-line winds, and flooding that struck the region on July 9, 2023. The denial, outlined in a letter to Governor Shapiro, cites the determination that the damage incurred does not warrant supplemental federal assistance.

The request, submitted July 31, 2023, which sought both Individual Assistance and Public Assistance for Berks County, as well as Hazard Mitigation for the entire Commonwealth, has been met with disappointment from local officials and residents who were hoping for federal aid to aid in recovery efforts.

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The letter from FEMA reads, “Based on our review of all of the information available, it has been determined that the damage from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to be beyond the capabilities of the commonwealth, affected local governments, and voluntary agencies.”

This decision implies that FEMA believes Pennsylvania has the necessary resources and capabilities to manage the aftermath of the disaster without requiring additional federal support.

Despite the denial, FEMA’s Region III Regional Administrator has pledged to work closely with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to explore alternative resources through other federal agencies and volunteer organizations to assist in addressing unmet needs for public assistance.

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Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks) released a statement Thursday in response to the letter from FEMA.

“While we realized this outcome was a possibility, that does not make the news of this decision by FEMA any easier to swallow. Despite this setback, I will continue searching for government assistance for the Antietam School District and the many Berks County residents hit hard by flooding in July. In anticipation of this decision, I contacted the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency last week and formally requested that funding allocated to a pilot individual disaster relief program be released in Berks County to affected residents. The clock continues to tick, and people are still without the assistance they need.”

Schwank added the lengthy wait for the federal government to render a decision on the Major Disaster Declaration has been extremely frustrating.

“People want answers, and they want to know what is being done to help them recover from this severe weather event,” Schwank said. “I empathize with those folks. Given the devastation we saw in some areas of Berks County, it’s hard to imagine that we don’t meet the federal threshold for assistance. However, this is the hand we’ve been dealt, and we need to pivot quickly given the circumstances.”

In addition to requesting PEMA release the pilot individual relief program funding, Schwank is calling on federal representatives to search for other funding sources to aid Berks County residents.

“We can’t leave a single stone unturned at any level of government,” Schwank said. “The problems we are facing don’t disappear just because we got some bad news. We need to continue work to provide people with the relief they need.”

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