Report: Gifford's FEMA claims less than half of total

Report: Gifford's FEMA claims less than half of total

Documents show majority was for other governments and utilities in area

SPRINGFIELD — Less than half of the public-assistance claims for Champaign County in the wake of the Nov. 17 tornado were to benefit the village of Gifford, the state's request to the Federal Emergency Management Agency shows.

The News-Gazette obtained the detailed report from the Illinois Emergency Management Agency under the state Freedom of Information Act.

It shows that while Gifford requested reimbursement for $219,765 in tornado-related costs, other local governments and the Eastern Illinois Electric Cooperative sought $233,197 in assistance. Overall, agencies in Champaign County requested $452,962 in public assistance from FEMA after the tornado destroyed an estimated 70 homes in northeastern Champaign County, knocked out water and electrical systems for days, and destroyed Gifford's tiny village building and several village-owned vehicles.

Statewide, $6.25 million in public assistance was sought from FEMA on behalf of 13 counties and the state of Illinois after the Nov. 17 storms.

FEMA rejected the state's request because it fell short of the federal threshold for Illinois of $17.8 million. That target is based on the state's population multiplied by $1.35.

State officials say they plan to appeal the FEMA verdict.

"It's possible that some of the governments, now that they're more than a month out from when we were first there, they may have realized some costs that they didn't have before. But it's really hard to say for sure," said Patti Thompson, communications manager for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency.

The FEMA rejection last week was related to aid to local governments and agencies, but has no effect on help for families, individuals and businesses.

In Illinois, FEMA has awarded about $2 million in individual assistance. The Small Business Administration has granted about $9 million in low-interest disaster loans.

"The timing of (the FEMA announcement) was a bit unfortunate because it led people to think that we're not going to see our assistance. They can still apply until Jan. 27, and as long as they apply by then, they're in the system," Thompson said. "We don't want people to give up and think that we've been denied.

"These are two totally separate programs. Whether or not the local government part of it gets approved will have no bearing on how much is approved for individuals. They're two separate programs with separate funding."

In Champaign County, public assistance reimbursement was sought not only by Gifford but by the Eastern Illinois Electric Cooperative ($80,000) the city of Champaign ($61,793), Compromise Township ($31,496), the county highway department ($29,646), the Champaign County Sheriff's Office ($19,752), the Champaign County Emergency Management Agency ($7,062), the Longview Fire Department ($2,139) and the University of Illinois Police Department ($1,309).

Other local government agencies, including several townships, that weren't part of the Champaign County request likely were included in Gifford's request under terms of mutual aid agreements between the governments, officials said.

Thompson, of IEMA, said electric cooperatives are eligible for public assistance.

Gifford's $219,765 request was broken down into four categories:

— $115,000 for road and bridge systems.

— $61,365 for debris removal from public property.

— $42,900 for emergency protective measures such as labor costs for security, equipment and material costs.

— $500 for buildings and equipment.

Among other counties affected by the Nov. 17 tornadoes and high winds, Douglas County had $103,016 in requested public assistance, the largest share ($58,016) coming from the Eastern Illini Electric Cooperative for utility system costs.

Vermilion County also was hit by the storm and sought $166,080 in public assistance reimbursement, the largest share ($82,000) from the electric cooperative. The city of Danville requested $69,946 in reimbursements.

Overall, the largest request for assistance came from Tazewell County, near Peoria, where $3.57 million in aid was sought after the tornado that leveled parts of Washington, Ill. More than $2.5 million was requested by the city of Washington.

State government itself sought $926,890 in public assistance related to the storms, for debris removal and emergency protective measures.

On a per-capita basis, the public assistance demands were highest in Washington County ($29.63), Tazewell County ($26.39) and Massac County ($15.57).

Champaign County's per-capita public assistance request was calculated at just $2.25. Vermilion County's was $2.03 and Douglas County's was $5.16.

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