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Kinzinger proposing new legislation for evaluating disaster areas

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

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COAL CITY – The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s denial of public assistance to Illinois counties affected by the Nov. 17 tornadoes, has inspired U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, to take action.

“Our formula for distributing federal disaster resources should be based on where the need is greatest, not arbitrary population numbers,” Kinzinger said in a recent press release. He was unavailable for comment Tuesday when the Morris Daily Herald contacted his office.

The congressman is referring to FEMA’s formula for calculating public disaster assistance, which multiplies the state’s population by $1.35 to determine eligibility for funding. Based on that calculation, Illinois was denied the $3 million in funds Gov. Pat Quinn requested earlier this month.

Now, a piece of legislation titled “The Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act of 2014” has been introduced by Kinzinger and fellow representatives Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, Aaron Schock, R-Peoria, Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, and Bill Enyart, D-Belleville.

The legislation proposes a new formula for evaluating disaster areas, adding new criteria to the formula and assigning specific weight to each criteria. The representatives aim to make the calculation more fair for rural areas, like Coal City and Diamond, that were affected by the disaster.

“The fact that we are in a state with Chicago really throws that calculation off,” said Terry Kernc, mayor of Diamond.

Because the entire state’s population is used in the calculation, Kernc said smaller communities are overlooked even though their damage was substantial.

The new legislation would put more emphasis on the localized impact factor on the formula, making damage assessments for a specific area, as opposed to statewide, account for 40 percent of the entire calculation.

“When a disaster hits a small town, it affects everybody because of the close ties of the community, yet we see these towns being penalized due to an unfair formula that favors bigger cities,” Kinzinger said in the release.

According to the release, the representatives also ask that FEMA factor in other economic circumstances, including a community’s tax base and median income, when calculating the need for public assistance. The current formula does not look at any such extenuating circumstances.

“If you’re like Washington and have lost 50 percent of your community, how are you expected to recover without aid,” Kernc said. “That being said, I certainly support this piece of legislation.”

FEMA already has approved $2.3 million in federal aid for individual home and business owners, but has yet to deliver any funding to help local governments with their expenses, which is covered through public assistance funding.

The U.S. Small Business Administration has approved $12 million in tornado recovery funds so far, but has extended its deadline for application to Monday.

Also announced this week, more help for tornado victims is available through a new disaster relief program through the Federal Home Loan Bank of Chicago. Victims can apply for $5,000 grants from Monday through July 25, said Melissa Warden, spokesperson for FHLB Chicago.

“We are also offering manufactured homes to homeowners affected by the tornadoes,” Warden said.

To apply, victims should visit one of the FHLB’s affiliated branches in the surrounding area. A list of those branches can be found at www.fhlbc.com/Members.

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