Barrar Co-Hosts Joint House and Senate Hearing to Examine Pennsylvania’s Disaster Response Capabilities
9/27/2011
HARRISBURG – Rep. Stephen E. Barrar (R-Chester/Delaware), majority chairman of the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, and Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne/Monroe/Pike/Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming), majority chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, today hosted a joint hearing of the committees to examine Pennsylvania’s disaster response during and after Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

“The areas I represent in Chester and Delaware counties have been included in the disaster declarations for both Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. These storms packed a one-two punch for certain areas of the state,” said Barrar. “For individuals who do not carry flood insurance, the losses can be astounding. Fortunately, many counties have met the threshold for federal disaster declaration and communities and individuals are able to seek help from the federal government. What we examined today is what happens when we experience a major disaster, but we do not meet the threshold for federal aid.”

Testifiers at the hearing included: 

        • Glenn Cannon, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency 
          (PEMA). 
        • David Sanko, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township 
          Supervisors. 
        • Ed Truitt, director of the Delaware County Emergency Management Agency. 
        • Steve Bekanich, director of the Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency. 
        • Jeff Yates, director of public safety in Washington County. 
        • Gene Dziak, director of the Wyoming County Emergency Management Agency. 
        • Joseph Yudichak and Gale Conrad, supervisors in Plymouth Township, Luzerne 
          County. 
        • Frank Coughlin, vice president of Plymouth Borough Council in Luzerne County. 
        • John Thomas, code enforcement officer from Plymouth Borough.

Truitt testified that there are often cases when Delaware County can meet its threshold of $1.8 million in damage, but unless the statewide damage totals more than $16 million, Pennsylvania and its counties will not qualify for federal disaster assistance.

Members questioned Cannon about the possibility of establishing a state disaster program to assist communities and individuals when total damage does not qualify Pennsylvania for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

“The purpose behind federal assistance is to help when a disaster is beyond the resources of a state,” said Cannon. “If a state has a large fund committed to dealing with disasters, it might be hard for the state to argue that the situation is beyond the capability of the state or local government. With a large disaster fund, the federal government might require those funds to be expended before giving federal disaster assistance. Pennsylvania’s threshold for receiving federal aid is $16.5 million, which should be taken into consideration before establishing any state disaster fund.”

Cannon also noted that there are constitutional questions to consider, which may prohibit the state from providing grants directly to individuals. Other states, such as Florida, Virginia and Texas resolve the issue by allowing a nonprofit agency to manage the fund.

“I appreciated the concerns Director Cannon raised about how a state disaster fund would be administered and how funding would be distributed,” said Barrar. “Do we operate the fund on a first-come, first-served basis? If we have several disasters in a calendar year, what would happen if the assistance needs exceed the available funding? It is also important for us to consider that having our own fund could negate our ability to receive federal aid. Pennsylvania taxpayers pay into the federal disaster fund, and we must be cautious that any program we create does not disrupt the eligibility of our citizens and communities for FEMA assistance.”

Sanko noted similar concerns to Cannon regarding federal disaster assistance rules that require the state to exhaust its funds.

“The solution may be to develop a program with specific criteria and funding mechanisms, but without a dedicated funding source,” said Sanko. “Funding could be transferred into the program through legislative or executive authorization if and when a particular event meets the criteria established in the legislation.”

Sanko also suggested Pennsylvania examine California’s public disaster assistance program, which stipulates that no funds for the program can be used to supplant federal funds otherwise available in the absence of state financial relief.

More information about Barrar and his legislative priorities is available at SteveBarrar.com or Facebook.com/RepBarrar.

State Representative Steve Barrar
160th District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives
SteveBarrar.com
Facebook.com/RepBarrar
Contact: Nicole Wamsley 
nwamsley@pahousegop.com 
717.783.8063
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