Federal Snow Removal Reimbursement Policy:

Improvements Needed

CED-79-97: Published: Aug 2, 1979. Publicly Released: Aug 2, 1979.

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A review was made of the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration's (FDAA) new snow removal reimbursement policy and the emergency request procedures FDAA and the Indiana and Illinois state governments used following the severe mid-January 1979 snowstorm. The law authorizes the President to provide assistance to supplement the efforts and available resources of state and local governments when a major disaster or emergency is declared. FDAA processes requests from state governors for federal assistance and also coordinates the activities of other federal agencies and disaster relief organizations during an emergency. Many federal programs are available to provide varying kinds of assistance to state and local goverments and individuals adversely affected by severe snowstorms. Federal assistance is to be available if and only to the extent that an effective response to the situation is beyond state and local capabilities.

The snow removal policy has several weaknesses because it does not adequately consider states' financial resources and does not adequately assess the costs incurred before reimbursement to determine if they are appropriate. The Disaster Relief Act of 1974 also has weaknesses which have the potential to affect some states' eligibility for federal disaster assistance. The act may result in inequitable emergency assistance treatment of states because of differences in state laws and differences in states' willingness to prepare for emergencies. While FDAA does not specify a system for requesting assistance, it does provide both financial and technical assistance to states to develop and update emergency preparedness plans. The states are in the best position to gather the data on the severity of a snowstorm and the ability of the state and local agencies to handle it. This responsibility appears to have been properly assigned within the states. In a comparison of the Indiana and Illinois procedures to request federal assistance no major differences between the states' plans were found which would account for the fact that Illinois' request was approved and Indiana's was denied.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: Congress should enact legislation requiring future snow removal reimbursements to be in the form of loans rather than grants. The Administrator, FDAA, should be given the authority to forgive emergency snow removal loans to the extent that a detailed examination discloses that a state could not otherwise afford the cost of snow removal. In such cases, FDAA and the state should account for the forgiven portion of the loan the same as a direct grant. Congress should also amend the Disaster Relief Act of 1974 to specifically require FDAA to provide reimbursement eligibility from the time a snowstorm begins. The amendment should be reworded slightly to provide eligibility from the beginning of the unexpected event, as opposed to the beginning of the emergency or major disaster.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Administrator, FDAA, should revise the snow removal reimbursement policy so that it (1) safeguards the President's disaster relief fund, (2) does not consider how well a state has fared on previous declaration requests before deciding whether to recommend that another emergency be declared, and (3) better discourages states from submitting inappropriate requests for assistance. The Administrator should also prepare a comprehensive analysis of the impact of these potential inequities on federal disaster assistance and submit a detailed plan to correct the weaknesses of the act, including necessary legislative changes, to Congress. It is necessary to reemphasize the need for states to expeditiously develop specific plans for snow emergencies. The $25,000 annual plan maintenance grant should be withheld from any states that normally receive heavy snows but do not agree to prepare more specific snow preparedness plans.

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