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Officials: Federal disaster funding a necessity

Damaged vehicles in the flooded area of West Scranton.
Aimee Dilger
Damaged vehicles in the flooded area of West Scranton.

Government officials from Northeast Pennsylvania sent President Biden letters urging him to overturn a decision denying federal disaster funding for the region.

On Sept. 9, a fast and deadly storm caused widespread damage in Lackawanna, Luzerne and Wyoming counties. The brunt of the storm lasted 90 minutes. One person drowned and another died days later from his injuries. The flash flooding destroyed creeks, bridges and roads and displaced dozens of residents. It took some businesses days to dry out.

Following the storm, Governor Josh Shapiro requested a major disaster declaration from the federal government, which provides funding for cleanups. In December, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) denied that request. The agency suggested the state, counties and municipalities use other funding, such as the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

“That wasn't the purpose of ARPA," said Luzerne County Manager Romilda Crocamo, who sent Biden a letter.

The Stafford Act provides the foundation for the national response to disasters. The state asked for public assistance for Northeast Pennsylvania. To receive it, the three counties had to meet a threshold of $23 million in damages. They did.

The communities began reporting damage to the state almost immediately after the storm. The total amount is nearly $25 million. The City of Scranton accounts for almost 30% of that damage.

The storm hit on a Saturday, by Sunday morning the city began repairs.

Mayor Paige Gebhardt Cognetti said there’s still so much more work to be done. FEMA in their denial says the state and the local entities can handle the cost of rebuilding. The city has already spent around $2.5 million for emergency work that could not wait.

"We disagree that the local jurisdiction has the ability to weather this ourselves," said Cognetti. "That $7 million for the City of Scranton would be very difficult for us.”

In the letters to Biden, officials, which include the federal delegation, say that FEMA’s calculations do not account for all of the damage.

The Back Mountain in Luzerne County was one of the hardest hit spots by the storm, especially the Luzerne County Fairgrounds in Lehman Twp. FEMA’s model excludes those costs. Crocamo visited the grounds after the storm.

“The damage that was done in that area alone … I was really shocked," she said.

Residents and businesses impacted by the Sept. 9 flood in Keyser Valley and North Scranton can apply for additional funding through the U.S. Small Business Administration’s (SBA) Disaster Loan program. The deadline to apply is Monday, March 25.

The SBA program provides low-interest loans for homeowners, renters, private nonprofits and businesses located in disaster declared counties who sustained damages from flooding. Homeowners and renters can receive up to $500,000 to replace or repair their primary residences and up to $100,000 to replace or repair personal property. Businesses and most private nonprofits may apply for up to $2 million to cover disaster losses not fully covered by insurance.

Small businesses, small agricultural cooperatives and most private nonprofit organizations located in the disaster area may also be eligible for an SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL). The deadline for the EIDL program is Friday, Oct. 25.

Loan applications can be downloaded at www.sba.gov/disaster. Completed applications should be mailed to the U.S. Small Business Administration, Processing and Disbursement Center, 14925 Kingsport Rd., Fort Worth, TX 76155.

The SBA also opened a local Disaster Loan Outreach Center for those wishing to apply. The DLOC is located at the Lackawanna County Center for Public Safety, 30 Valley View Drive, Jessup. It's open Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. until Thursday, Feb. 15.

Kat Bolus is the community reporter for the newly-formed WVIA News Team. She is a former reporter and columnist at The Times-Tribune, a Scrantonian and cat mom.

You can email Kat at katbolus@wvia.org
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