Federal Aid Decision Reversed To Help Somerset

OCEAN CITY – The decision to deny Individual Assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was overturned this week to provide help to Somerset County residents and businesses following Hurricane Sandy.

Last Friday Gov. Martin O’Malley announced that President Obama had approved an Individual Assistance disaster declaration for Somerset County for damages from Hurricane Sandy. The Individual Assistance declaration will make federal funds available to homeowners, renters and business owners who suffered property damages as a result of the storm.

A couple of weeks ago, the president had agreed to fund Public Assistance in most Maryland counties to help pay for state and local government costs for preparation and cleanup from Sandy. However, FEMA denied the state’s request for Individual Assistance. Maryland appealed that decision last Wednesday and O’Malley was notified of the approval of Somerset County last week.

Senator Jim Mathias, who represents Somerset, Wicomico and Worcester counties, has been committed to achieving relief for those effected by Hurricane Sandy in Maryland and was greatly disappointed by the news the state’s request for individual assistance had been denied.

“I called everyone … this was right in my own backyard, these are the people that gave me the right to represent them,” he said. “When we were turned down, it just told us to work harder.”

Mathias worked directly with O’Malley, U.S. Senators Barbara Miklulski and Ben Cardin, Congressmen Andy Harris, Elijah Cummings, Steny Hoyer, Chris Van Hollen and John Sarbanes and many other state and county officials, who all partnered together to have the denial for individual assistance overturned.

 “We just kept the faith and I am grateful to the volunteers and everyone who continued to move forward, and to the governor to continue to muster the leadership, and the due diligence,” he said. “To me, that is what working together is, and in summary I have three words to say — patience, persistence and leadership. That is what enabled us.”

O’Malley thanked President Obama, Senator Mikulski and Cardin, and the entire Congressional delegation for making the assistance possible to Maryland residents.

“This assistance will provide much-needed and long-awaited relief for hundreds of residents in Somerset County,” he said. “I’d also like to thank our local partners like Senator Mathias who have been instrumental in highlighting the needs of residents. Together, we will continue to recover and build a more resilient Maryland.”

Mikulski said FEMA’s approval of individual disaster assistance to Sandy victims is long awaited.      

“It restores the light in some of our hardest hit communities during this Season of Light,” she said. “Senator Cardin and I refused to stand by while red tape and regulations stopped residents from getting the help they need. While we are thankful and ready for assistance to begin in Crisfield and Somerset County’s communities, we have not forgotten the rest of our communities. We will keep fighting for the victims of Sandy in Maryland.”

Cardin said FEMA and President Obama have delivered great news for the people of Crisfield and Somerset County on what has otherwise been a sobering day.

“Hurricane Sandy hit the people of Somerset County particularly hard. The damage has been too great to expect the locals to handle alone and the federal government had to step in to help," he said. "Together, we also will continue to seek the needed assistance for other communities still struggling in their recovery efforts."

Officials noted that federal assistance is not designed to fully return property to the condition it was in before the storm hit, but to deal with immediate health and safety issues.