Resolution Urges Congress to Update Federal Disaster Declaration Process

The Illinois General Assembly passed House Resolution 922 on Friday calling on Congress to update the federal disaster declaration process, following FEMA’s recent denial of assistance to local governments in communities hard hit by the November 17 tornadoes.  The legislation was sponsored by Rep. Mike Unes (R-East Peoria) and Rep. Keith Sommer (R-Morton).

The disaster declaration process relies on a population-based formula to calculate what a state’s threshold is for federal assistance. Because Illinois is the fifth-largest state in the nation, it has a much higher threshold than other states. But because the tornado outbreak affected primarily small, rural communities the damage did not reach the federal requirement, leaving devastated towns and villages to fend for themselves when it came to meeting the costs of the cleanup.

“It is simply common sense that the federal government recognize the need for changes to this process.  Downstate communities should not be punished in the federal designation process simply because Illinois has a higher population than other states because of Chicago. These communities were hit hard are in need of help from FEMA to pay for expenses related to the disaster response and cleanup,” Unes said.

“I am pleased to see the House make such a strong statement in support of changing this unfair policy. If another Illinois community should find itself in the same situation as the people of Washington did, they should get the federal support they deserve,” said Sommer.

The Sommer-Unes legislation calls on Congress “to correct this outdated and unfair system,” by passing reform legislation introduced by the Illinois congressional delegation in January. Rep. Sommer’s district includes the city of Washington, while Rep. Unes represents Pekin and East Peoria.