OCEAN CITY — Maryland’s congressional leaders’ appeal for individual federal disaster relief for victims across the lower shore apparently fell on deaf ears as the Obama administration this week announced it was denying the request.
While the federal government had issued a major disaster declaration for Maryland and much of the lower shore including Worcester County in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, no similar declaration for individual assistance in the form of federal relief dollars for victims in Worcester, Somerset and Dorchester, for example, had been approved. On Tuesday, the Obama Administration announced the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was denying Maryland’s request for individual assistance for Hurricane Sandy victims.
Early in the week, state officials were still awaiting word on individual federal assistance for victims across the state and in Worcester, Somerset and Dorchester Counties specifically. The major disaster declaration includes federal assistance for local governments for hazard mitigation, but does not include any commitment for federal relief for individual victims of the storm.
That would require a separate declaration from FEMA, but on Tuesday, the Obama administration announced the Individual Assistance had not been approved. Already, state congressional leaders are preparing to appeal the decision to decline individual assistance for storm victims, particularly those in the ravaged bay town of Crisfield.
Senator Jim Mathias, who repreents Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties, called the denial one of the toughest decisions he has had ever had to stomach.
“I cannot remember a public policy decision that more deeply aggrieved me than that of the denial of individual assistance aid to Somerset County families, homes and businesses. While we have tremendous volunteer organizations, that have been working day and night to help our community, more assistance is needed,” Mathias said. :Since the day Sandy hit, I have been working with the Governor’s office, members of our Congressional Delegation from both sides of the aisle, our local elected officials; as well as personnel from FEMA and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) to provide help and relief to our residents in Crisfield, and across the Lower Eastern Shore.”
Congressman Andy Harris was equally upset, saying, “I was disappointed to learn that President Obama has denied Maryland’s application for Individual Assistance. I encourage Governor O’Malley to use all resources at his disposal to ensure that the residents of the areas impacted by Hurricane Sandy are provided access to any and all recovery resources for which they are eligible.”
In his letter to O’Malley, Harris implored the governor to seek a reversal of the FEMA decision to deny federal individual assistance across the lower shore.
“Just a month ago, I toured Crisfield and Ocean City to see firsthand the serious impact of Sandy,” he said. “Like you, I was stunned to see the evident devastation there and throughout the First Congressional District, especially in Dorchester, Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester Counties. As you know, these areas represent some of the poorest communities in our state with limited access to resources but with the greatest need for assistance.”
Before the Obama administration and FEMA handed down their denial of individual assistance in Maryland, Harris and Maryland Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last week to testify on the impacts of Sandy on the state, specifically Worcester, Somerset and Dorchester counties and to appeal to the federal agency for the individual relief funding.
“Super Storm Sandy’s wrath had a measurable impact on residents of Maryland,” said Senator Barbara Mikulski. “Over the course of several days, the storm brought unprecedented levels of precipitation and winds, delivering severe flooding and damage in many parts of Maryland with widespread power outages and downed trees. Nearly a month after Sandy, it’s important that these residents know that they have a federal government on their side.”
Mikulski, along with Cardin, penned a lengthy letter to the Senate committee outlining Maryland’s need for assistance for individual storm victims, which was read into the record during the hearing.
“As the vast majority of the state grinded to a halt, the situation was felt most acutely on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in the counties of Somerset, Worcester and Dorchester,” the Senators wrote in their full statement to the committee. “In those counties, where the rates of poverty are some of the highest in our state, over 160 households were displaced due to flooding as a result of Sandy. Many have not yet returned because
their homes are either uninhabitable or in serious need of repair and many are without flood insurance.”
The Maryland senators’ letter points out the economic hardship left in the wake of the storm, for individual victims and the economies in the affected areas across the lower shore.
“In addition, Sandy had a significant effect on the industries of Maryland’s Eastern Shore with the flooding of crops and the dismantling of seafood operations that are the lifeblood of the state’s economy,” the statement reads. “Our state and its local governments continue to calculate their costs from this storm, but initial estimates reflected damage of over $27 million, a figure that continues to increase as assessments become more detailed.”
On Wednesday, Mikulski participated at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security entitled “Hurricane Sandy: Response and Recovery – Progress and Challenges.”
“I think at this time as we go into the holiday season of Hanukah and Christmas and the Season of Light, there isn’t a lot of light in a lot of our communities. We’ve got one really sad day today. Maryland woke up in the Lower Shore to this headline: ‘U.S. Denies Aid to Maryland Storm Victims,’ Mikulski said. “Somerset County is a little county, surrounded by three sides of water: the Chesapeake Bay, a creek, and also the Atlantic Ocean. The people love to come down from National Geographic to take pictures about how quaint, lovely, and charming we are. They want to hear the songs. Well right now we’re singing the blues, and we’re singing them loud, and we’re singing them clear, and we’re singing them here.”