FEMA denies tornado disaster relief for Illinois

The federal government on Thursday denied Gov. Pat Quinn’s request for disaster aid to help nine counties clean up following November’s deadly tornadoes, saying damage was not severe enough to require extra help.

The Democratic governor said he was “disappointed” by the decision, but said he plans to appeal the denial within the required 30 days.

“The state of Illinois will continue doing everything necessary to help our hardest hit communities rebuild and recover from these historic tornadoes,” Quinn said in a statement.

The decision by the Federal Emergency Management Agency means local governments in storm-ravaged counties are ineligible to receive reimbursement for 75 percent of clean-up costs, including removal of debris, fixing damaged public property and related overtime expenses for workers.

The counties impacted are Champaign, Douglas, Grundy, Massac, Tazewell, Vermilion, Washington, Wayne and Woodford.

It’s the second time in recent years that federal officials have denied Quinn’s request for aid to help defray costs for towns hit by deadly tornadoes. The first came in 2012, after tornadoes killed seven people in downstate Harrisburg.

For counties to receive help, Illinois must document at least $17.8 million in clean-up costs. But state emergency officials tallied costs related to clean up from the November tornadoes at just over $6 million.

A letter from FEMA to the Illinois Emergency Management Agency said a review “determined that the damage to the infrastructure from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to warrant the implementation of the public assistance program.”

Quinn’s office contends the federal calculation that bases aid on population works against states like Illinois that are geographically large but have a higher concentration of people in urban centers such as Chicago.  Democratic Senator Dick Durbin and Republican Senator Mark Kirk also expressed disappointment in FEMA’s decision, saying it will hamper towns as they try to rebuild.

The assistance for towns is separate from that given to individuals and businesses, and federal officials have already approved more than $10 million to help home and business owners recover.

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