Blizzard disaster declaration clears way for federal dollars

Sean Philip Cotter

A federal disaster declaration last week for January's Winter Storm Jonas has removed one of the final hurdles for York City and other hard-hit municipalities and organizations to recoup some of the money they spent.

Some shovelers chose to try to keep up with the snow in the Avenues Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016.

Now it's just a matter of filling out all the paperwork correctly and waiting a few months, and some of the cash that York County spent on the storm will come back to the area, according to the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency.

This money is "for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe winter storm and snowstorm," according to a Federal Emergency Management Agency release.

For example, York City spent its entire $160,000 snow-removal budget battling the storm, which dropped about 2½ feet of snow on the area Jan. 22-23, city officials have estimated. Through the disaster-declaration process, York City can get back 75 percent of what it spent during the most expensive continuous 48-hour window of the cleanup efforts.

For the city, that's about $79,500, according to Jim Gross, the city's public works director. The city has spent likely more than $200,000 overall this year in snow removal, so that would get the city back within what was originally budgeted.

The city issued a disaster declaration in the midst of the storm, and the state did so shortly after. The federal government followed suit March 23.

"The federal government had to determine if we incurred enough of a financial burden," said Michael Shanabrook, York City's emergency planner. "And low and behold, we spent enough money."

As went the series of declarations, so will the money, he said.

"We go to the state, the state goes to the federal government and then it trickles down in the same way," he said.

He said city officials will go to a county-hosted PEMA session next week where they and anyone else interested around the county will get the paperwork they need to fill out, and they'll learn what else to send in. Among that paperwork will be will be records of the costs of labor, materials and supplies, according to PEMA.

York County spokesman Carl Lindquist said he wasn't sure how many municipalities had issued disaster declarations. But any can show up and get the paperwork.

And it's not just municipalities that are eligible — private and public schools and hospitals, as well as private nonprofits such as zoos, homeless shelters, libraries, museums and health care services, can come to the sessions also, as they're eligible for aid, too.

The sessions will be held at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. Friday at the county's Emergency Management Office, 120 Davies Drive, according to PEMA spokeswoman Ruth Miller.

Many nonprofits are not eligible, so any interested should check the primer on PEMA's website to see if it seems like the organization would have a chance. It's also worth noting that private citizens are not eligible for federal disaster relief funds, according to PEMA.

York County is one of 31 counties in the state that have been declared disasters by the state and federal governments in relation to this storm, which caused about $55 million damage to the state.

For the federal government to declare a disaster regarding a snowstorm, "a record or near-record snowfall event must occur within the county;" also, costs during a continuous 48-hour period and any other emergency protective measures must total more than $3.56 per person in the county, according to PEMA.

Those conditions did exist in York County, PEMA said.

— Reach Sean Cotter or on Twitter at@SPCotterYD.