Thursday, January 11, 2018

Jan 4th nor’easter and the eligibility for Federal Disaster Assistance

I wanted to share the following information my office received from the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security:

The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) has prepared an overview of the process to determine eligibility for Federal Disaster Assistance. 

January 11, 2018

On January 4, 2018, a nor’easter that included snow (up to 17” in some areas), freezing rain in southeast Massachusetts, damaging winds (gusts up to 75 MPH in some areas), extreme cold, and widespread moderate and major coastal flooding, impacted the state.  The strong winds damaged trees, utility wires and infrastructure, and other structures, and the coastal flooding and extreme cold caused widespread damage to homes and businesses, roads, sidewalks, culverts, seawalls, piers, sewer systems and other public infrastructure. 

Now that emergency response operations have been completed in most communities, and efforts have transitioned to short and long-term repair and recovery, MEMA will turn its attention to evaluating whether the state and any of its cities and towns are eligible for a presidential disaster declaration and associated federal financial assistance.  More particularly, over the next several weeks, MEMA will work with state agencies and municipal emergency managers to determine eligibility for federal assistance under two of FEMA’s disaster programs – the Public Assistance (PA) Program, and the Individuals and Housing Assistance (IHP) Program – and the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Disaster Loan Assistance Program.

This email is intended to provide a general overview of the damage assessment process and the applicable (i) cost thresholds under the PA Program, and (ii) the damage thresholds under the IHP Program and SBA Disaster Loan Assistance Program.   

Public Assistance Program Thresholds

Under the PA program, FEMA will reimburse cities and towns, state agencies, and certain non-profits for up to 75% of their eligible storm related costs, including emergency protective measures; debris removal; and damage to roads, sidewalks, bridges, culverts, government owned buildings, and other public infrastructure, including damage to facilities (poles, lines, transformers, etc.) owned by municipal electricity companies. Please note: for this storm, costs associated with snow removal and treatment of roadways with sand, chemical or salt are not eligible because we did not meet record or near-record snowfall amounts.   

PA assistance is provided on a county by county basis.  If a county receives a PA disaster declaration, then reimbursement is provided to all cities and towns in the county, and to state agencies for their storm related costs that were incurred within the county.  To receive PA assistance, total eligible storm related costs within the county must exceed a population based threshold that is established by FEMA.  The applicable county thresholds are listed in the table below.


Barnstable County  $794,468
Berkshire County
Bristol County
Dukes County
Essex County
Franklin County
Hampden County
Hampshire County
Middlesex County
Nantucket County
Norfolk County
Plymouth County
Suffolk County
Worcester County

Once counties are identified as having met or exceeded individual county PA cost thresholds, the aggregate costs of these counties are calculated to determine if the statewide cost threshold has been met.  These counties can be deemed eligible under the PA program only if the statewide threshold - -  $9,559,538 - - is met or exceeded.

Individual and Housing Assistance Program (IHP) Thresholds

FEMA’s IHP Program provides direct disaster assistance to eligible disaster survivors.  The IHP Program does not have specific and objective thresholds.  Rather, in determining whether to provide assistance to disaster survivors under the Individual and Housing Assistance Program, FEMA assesses the extent of major damage to uninsured and underinsured homes and businesses, and the unmet needs of disaster survivors.  Although not set in stone as an eligibility threshold, FEMA tends to require that at least 300 to 400 uninsured or underinsured homes and businesses were heavily damaged or destroyed before it will provide disaster benefits to survivors under the Individual and Housing Assistance Program. 

Small Business Administration Thresholds

Under the SBA’s disaster programs, eligible residents and/or businesses may receive low-interest loans from the SBA to assist them in making repairs to damaged property and replacing damaged contents/assets, or helping to bring businesses back online.  All individuals or businesses must meet SBA eligibility and loan credit requirements to receive disaster loans. 

  • SBA Physical Disaster Declaration:  The SBA may issue a physical disaster declaration in any county when at least 25 homes or 25 businesses, or a combination of at least 25 homes, businesses, or other eligible institutions, each sustain uninsured losses of 40% or more of the estimated fair replacement value or pre-disaster fair market value of the damaged building or its contents, whichever is lower.  Under an SBA physical disaster declaration, low interest loans are available to businesses, homeowners and tenants to repair or replace disaster damages to property, including real estate, personal property, machinery and equipment, inventory and supplies.  Businesses of any size are eligible.  SBA offers low interest loans up to $200,000 to repair disaster damaged primary residences.  Additionally, homeowners and renters are eligible for loans up to $40,000 to replace personal property such as furniture, appliances and clothing.  Loans to businesses of all sizes and non-profit organizations are available up to $2,000,000 to repair damage to real estate, inventory, machinery, and equipment.
  • SBA Economic Injury Declaration:  The SBA may issue an economic injury declaration if at least five small businesses in a disaster area have suffered substantial economic injury as a result of the disaster and are in need of financial assistance not otherwise available on reasonable terms.  The threshold usually used by the SBA to determine whether 5 small businesses have suffered “substantial economic injury” is 5 or more businesses within a business district or county that each has or likely will suffer at least a 40% loss of income over a defined period of time.

Damage Assessment Process

MEMA needs to determine whether total eligible costs and damages exceed the county and state thresholds listed above.  There are several ways we will make this determination.  First, MEMA will initiate an Initial Damage Assessment (IDA) process this week by asking coastal communities (because they were hardest hit by the storm) to submit preliminary estimates of their eligible costs and damages. If needed, MEMA will expand the IDA to other communities in Massachusetts. (Please note: these communities do not necessarily have to participate in the IDA process to be deemed eligible for reimbursement should a presidential disaster declaration be issued.)  Second, if those estimates indicate that we may exceed applicable thresholds, MEMA will initiate a more formal damage assessment process in coordination with FEMA, called a Preliminary Damage Assessment (PDA).     

Initial Damage Assessments

MEMA will initiate the Initial Damage Assessment (IDA) process during the week of January 7, 2018.  MEMA will send IDA forms to the municipal emergency management directors in all coastal communities, and state agencies, with a request that the forms be completed and returned to MEMA over the following two weeks. 

The IDA forms ask for initial estimates of eligible storm related costs and damages in the following categories:

  • Debris clearance and removal, including overtime and equipment costs associated with clearing downed trees, limbs and poles, rubble, sand and other materials from roadways, sidewalks and public infrastructure;
  • Emergency response and protective measures, including first responder overtime and costs for equipment (such as emergency pumps), fuel, operating shelters and warming centers, evacuating people from flooded areas, and other actions  related to impacts of the strong winds and coastal flooding on January 4thNote: costs associated with snow removal, and treatment of roads with chemicals, sand and salt because of the snow and freezing rain are not eligible costs and cannot be included in the IDA process.  Snow removal and road treatment costs are not reimbursed by FEMA unless the storm resulted in a record, or near-record snowfall.  The January 4th storm did not produce a record or near-record snowfall.
  • Repair and replacement costs associated with flood and wind damage to (i) municipally owned poles, wires and electricity infrastructure; (ii) government owned/maintained roads, sidewalks, culverts, seawalls, piers, buildings and other public infrastructure; and (iii) government owned/maintained beaches and coastal areas.
  • Information on uninsured or underinsured homes and businesses that were heavily damaged or destroyed.
  • Information on businesses, homes and other structures that sustained uninsured losses of at least 40% of the fair market value, or replacement cost of the damaged building or its contents, whichever is lower.

The IDA process is not onerous as we are only requesting high-level, rough estimates of costs.  MEMA, in collaboration with FEMA, will use the results of the IDA’s to evaluate the likelihood of the state being eligible for disaster assistance under the PA Program.  If there is a possibility that PA Program thresholds will be met, then MEMA will work with FEMA to conduct Preliminary Damage Assessments.
Preliminary Damage Assessments

Once the results of the IDAs have been analyzed, if there is any likelihood that the state will meet the PA Program thresholds, MEMA, in conjunction with FEMA, will conduct Preliminary Damage Assessments (PDAs) to more conclusively determine if the state is eligible for federal disaster assistance under the PA Program. 

The PDA process entails sending damage assessment teams, comprised of state and federal technical experts, to those communities and state agencies that have reported significant eligible storm related costs and damages on the IDA forms.  During these field visits, the PDA teams view damage and debris, as well as examine local and state financial records, for the purpose of quantifying the impacts of the storm and gathering the cost and damage information. This information would be used to determine the state’s eligibility for disaster assistance and would be included in the Governor’s request for disaster assistance. 

The process of determining whether the PA Program cost thresholds have been met may take four or more weeks. 

Flooding and Coastal Communities

MEMA has been in touch with impacted coastal communities and is aware of the fact that the coastal flooding has displaced up to 100 families from damaged homes, and that some of these displaced families are uninsured, or under-insured and may have immediate unmet needs.  To help address these needs, MEMA will be advising local emergency managers that individuals and families with unmet needs can call 2-1-1 to be connected with appropriate service and resource providers.  More particularly, impacted individuals and families can contact 2-1-1 for help being connected with state agencies and non-profit service providers who can help address immediate unmet needs for clothing, food, housing, etc.  Additionally, 2-1-1 will be able to connect displaced residents with voluntary disaster service organizations that may be able to provide volunteers to help clean homes and return them to a safe, sanitary and secure condition.  And, 2-1-1 will be able to connect people with agencies and service providers that can help answer questions about their insurance coverage.