Updated cleanup cost may boost chance for aid in Gifford

GIFFORD — State and local officials have updated the cost of tornado cleanup in Gifford and now believe they have a better chance of qualifying for public assistance reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Last month, a statewide tally of $6.25 million in public assistance reimbursements to local governments fell far short of Illinois' threshold of $17.8 million. That number is based on a FEMA formula that takes into account the entire state population.

But although an accounting of tornado-related expenses in Gifford has increased the sum for cleanup expenses, statewide numbers — including those from the more heavily damaged Washington area — are not complete.

Meanwhile, officials are urging individuals in the Gifford area and other parts of Illinois raked by the Nov. 17 tornadoes to apply for assistance before a FEMA-established deadline of Monday.

"We just want to make sure that they know there's a deadline and once the deadline passes, then they're out," U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, said Thursday. His congressional district includes Gifford, Vermilion County and Douglas County, plus other parts of downstate Illinois hit by tornadoes last fall.

"Even if they have insurance, and there's a possibility that their insurance won't totally cover their loss, there's an ability to get help from FEMA in that area too," Shimkus said.

"People can't wait anymore. They have to do this now," said Champaign County Board Chairman Alan Kurtz.

FEMA grants — including aid for temporary housing, home repairs, personal property or vehicle replacement — may be available by registering for assistance at 1-800-621-FEMA or disasterassistance.gov.

According to FEMA, hundreds of families and individuals in Champaign County haven't completed their applications for federal assistance or Small Business Administration assistance.

But the effort to get federal reimbursement of state and local government expenses for the tornado cleanup improved Thursday when officials said that new calculations put public assistance costs from Champaign County jurisdictions at just over $1 million, more than two times the original estimate.

"The original number was before all of these outside entities came in and billed — fire departments and other agencies," Kurtz said. "Bills started to roll in weeks after they did their work."

One addition, Kurtz noted, was to figure in significant damage to a Gifford road that had been used to haul debris from the center of the northeastern Champaign County village.

"Even FEMA and (the Illinois Emergency Management Agency) found acceptable expenses that were not submitted the first time around," Kurtz said.

Statewide, though, it's still uncertain whether all of Illinois' cleanup costs will be enough to qualify the state for assistance to governments.

"We don't know statewide because it's still ongoing for Tazewell County," said IEMA spokeswoman Patti Thompson. "Even once they finish up that work, FEMA does some final review of the eligibility and everything. It probably won't be until next week that we'll have a better idea of that."

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