Disaster Relief: Our State cannot afford to shortchange our efforts to recover billions

Superstorm Sandy devastated whole communities within our State, as Hurricanes Irene and Lee had done the year prior.  The efforts to account for the losses, enabling us to recover from the damage done and to mitigate against probable future reoccurrences, received important focus from the Governor in his State of the State message yesterday and remains a headline focus across the State today.

To document, file and obtain recovery funding is a precise task best performed by trained experts, and our State is fortunate to have the services of the best in the nation.  New York created the model to successfully maximize recoveries and the “New York Model” has been replicated in many other states, still serving us well in this time of crisis.

But when the State contract was put together to support these model disaster recovery efforts, there were no Irene, Lee or Sandy-sized tragedies before us.  The $25 million contract was thought to be sufficient to support disaster recovery efforts for 5 years, because the underlying premise was that we would face disasters with recovery figures in the hundreds of millions.

Yet, we are over $5 billion and counting on Sandy alone, and the efforts to fully support that recovery are forecast to continue well into 2015.  And there is still much work left to be done on Irene and Lee.  And that is before the prospect of any other major storm damaging New York again in the foreseeable future.

The Federal Government reimburses our State for the documented costs of the recovery through FEMA, but those costs need to first be properly documented.  In recognition of that fact, FEMA allows the State to cover over 90 percent of the administrative costs of that activity, so historically most of what we have invested in these efforts under contract flows right back to us.

However, we again face a contract crisis to support these services.  The initial contract was increased from $25 million to $75 million over the summer, but by the end of this month the contract cap will again be reached and the ability to pay for these services will end – a full year and a half before the documenting process is to be completed.

To support this important effort, the contract cap needs to be increased to $200 million, and if the recovery exceeds the expected $6 billion – which it will – we can expect to receive that amount alone in Federal reimbursements.  We need to ensure our current efforts continue, and that no demobilization occurs, because as time progresses, the ability to document the damage proves more difficult.

Let’s ensure that we put our full and best effort forward, to maximize our recovery and mitigate to the fullest extent possible.  To do that, we need to increase the cap, provide the authorization, allow the claims to be filed and enable the FEMA funds – and the FEMA reimbursements – to flow.

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