As Pennsylvania experiences more localized, short-duration high-intensity rainstorms that cause devastating flash flooding, Gov. Tom Wolf recently sent a letter urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to lower the federal damage assessment thresholds required for these events to qualify for federal aid.
“These localized short-duration, high-intensity precipitation events result in significant damages and impacts to human lives, but they rarely meet the thresholds needed for federal disaster aid in the form of Individual Assistance,” Wolf said. “While my administration is working diligently to support recovery efforts, substantial gaps remain when these localized events do not meet federal damage assessment thresholds. As a result, victims are left to pick up the pieces with little to no financial support. I’m requesting that FEMA adjust the thresholds to better reflect current weather trends that, as a result of climate change, are causing these intense rainstorms and impacting communities, including those that typically do not experience flooding.”
Recently, homes and businesses in Bucks, Philadelphia and Tioga counties sustained significant flood damage as a result of flash flooding on July 12. The governor toured Bucks County communities affected by this flooding.
Based on the results of a damage survey, the damage in these counties, as well as the neighboring counties of Bradford, Delaware, Lehigh, Lycoming, Montgomery, Northampton and Potter, met the criteria for financial aid through the U.S. Small Business Administration. The governor requested and successfully obtained a SBA emergency declaration to benefit the affected citizens.
However, the federal criteria for Individual Assistance aid was not met, even though the damages devastated numerous homeowners and renters.
In order to receive a federal disaster declaration for Individual Assistance, which provides money directly to homeowners and renters, the commonwealth would need to reach certain thresholds for the number of homes that fit into the classification of “major damage” or “destroyed” along with other considerations that are specified by FEMA.
“Evaluating impacts solely on a micro level at the municipal or county level alone, rather than toward a whole state assessment, would provide a more realistic assessment of the impacts to that community,” Wolf said. “Doing so will provide much needed direct assistance to the most vulnerable who most often are ineligible for other disaster assistance.”
Flooding, which is one of the most significant hazards in the commonwealth, is becoming more common due to the increased frequency of short-duration high-intensity rainstorms.
In 2019 alone, more than 5,200 Pennsylvania homes were damaged from flooding events; however, not one incident met the federal thresholds required for individual assistance.
While flooding risk was originally thought to be associated with living in or near a special flood hazard zone or flood plain, data collected since 1993 has shown that 96 percent of flooding incidents in the commonwealth reported to the National Weather Service occurred outside of established flood plains. Despite this, many homeowners and renters are not required to purchase flood insurance by their lender or landlord and many are unable to afford the additional expense.