No decision has been reached on whether federal funding will be made available to help Hardin County homeowners hit by February’s major flooding.
However, Gov. Bill Lee announced Wednesday the federal government has granted his request for a Major Disaster Declaration to make public assistance available to 56 counties impacted in February’s flooding and severe storms. Among those counties are Hardin, Decatur, McNairy and Wayne.
Federal assistance to aid in recovery and rebuilding efforts after a natural disaster is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and generally falls under two umbrellas: Public Assistance and Individual Assistance.
Public Assistance can fund the repair, restoration, reconstruction or replacement of a public facility or infrastructure (in short, affected state or local government bodies, tribal governments, or certain private non-profit organizations). Individual Assistance is, under certain conditions, provided by FEMA to individuals and families who have sustained losses due to disasters.
“The devastating flooding and severe weather required a comprehensive response and stretched many local jurisdictions to their resource limits,” Lee said.
“For the counties working to rebuild bridges, roads, utilities, and other infrastructure, this federal assistance will support their recovery efforts.”
The major disaster declaration covers the time period of Feb. 19, to March 30, 2019, and will allow government entities and certain private non-profits in the eligible counties to apply for reimbursement of specific expenses related to the disaster under FEMA’s Public Assistance program.
The federal declaration also makes Tennessee eligible for the federal Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which provides assistance to communities to prevent or reduce long-term risks to life and property from natural hazards.
On the Individual Assistance side, FEMA is still reviewing Lee’s initial request to provide assistance in five Tennessee counties – Decatur, Hardin, Humphreys, Perry, and Sevier.
Gov. Lee’s initial individual assistance request also included Anderson and Weakley counties. FEMA’s incident time period for the award, which starts on Feb. 19, excludes these two counties from the declaration.
The waves of severe weather that began on Feb. 6, 2019, impacted 83 of Tennessee’s 95 counties, inflicting various levels of damage from flooding and heavy rains for more than a month.
Based on the FEMA joint preliminary damage assessments, the 56 counties demonstrated they met or surpassed federally-established loss thresholds to qualify for relief through FEMA’s Public Assistance program, with qualifying losses for county, municipal, state agency, and utility infrastructure impacts and emergency spending totaling $68.3 million.
Although Tennessee has now been officially “approved,” the process is really just beginning in earnest.
According to FEMA, now that the declaration has been officially approved and signed by President Trump, a series of applicant briefings will be conducted to inform potential applicants of the assistance available and how to apply. Applicants must then file a Request for Public Assistance within 30 days of the federal declaration.
Following the approved request, FEMA and the applicants will conduct additional meetings to discuss disaster damage and project formulation. Applicants must identify and report damages to FEMA within the 60-day regulatory timeframe. FEMA, the recipient, or the applicant will then prepare project worksheets for eligible work and eligible facilities based on actual or estimated project costs.
According to FEMA, the public assistance can include:
•Payment of not less than 75 percent of the eligible costs for emergency protective measures taken to save lives and protect property and public health. Emergency protective measures assistance is available to state and eligible local governments on a cost-sharing basis.
• Payment of not less than 75 percent of the eligible costs for repairing or replacing damaged public facilities, such as roads, bridges, utilities, buildings, schools, recreational areas, and similar publicly owned property, as well as certain private non-profit organizations engaged in community service activities.
•Payment of not more than 75 percent of the approved costs for hazard mitigation projects undertaken by state, tribal and local governments to prevent or reduce long-term risk to life and property from natural or technological disasters.
The February storms caused more than $80 million in damages to the state’s transportation network. The Tennessee Department of Transportation has executed more than 50 emergency contracts to repair nearly 300 locations in 73 counties.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation has received $10 million in federal disaster relief funds and will work with the Federal Highway Administration for reimbursement for costs related to the storms.
Also, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture is coordinating with partners to assist farmers experiencing flooding in low-lying areas and river bottomlands, particularly in West Tennessee.
“Our farmers and foresters rely on their local transportation and utility infrastructures being in good condition,” Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Hatcher said.
“These FEMA programs will assist with road and bridge repair while our farmers continue cleaning debris, repairing structures, and adjusting their planting times.”