Formula for Disaster

LAST WEEK, officials in Belmont County delivered good news and bad news regarding federal assistance for storm-related incidents this year.

The good news was that Belmont County would be receiving more than $1 million in emergency funds from the federal government in connection with spring storms that caused costly damage in more than 20 counties in Ohio. Belmont County was one of more than a dozen regional counties that were awarded federal funds for cleanup and mitigation in the wake of these storms. The sizable chunk of money will be used to hire temporary work crews that will clean debris from local creeks and streams in the coming months.

What’s ironic is that the spring storms caused minimal damage in Belmont County compared to the flash flooding that came in mid-June. Heavy rains caused swift-moving waters to spill over their banks, creating extensive damage in the Neffs area as well as other low-lying areas of the county. Homes and private structures were severely damaged, and some bridges were destroyed.

While Belmont County suffered much more extensive damage in June, that incident did not qualify for federal assistance. Dave Ivan, director of the Belmont County Emergency Management Agency, delivered that bit of bad news last week. In order to qualify for federal disaster relief and funding assistance, an incident must be declared a federal disaster. The June flooding that was limited to Belmont County was not.

According to the funding formula, a state must sustain at least $14 million in damage to qualify as a federal disaster, local officials explained. Belmont County’s damage was significant enough to be included in the petition for relief from the spring storms, and that funding was granted because the damage was widespread across many counties in Ohio.

June’s flooding caused much more damage, but it was limited in most part to low-lying areas in Belmont County. Although more than $1.3 million worth of damage was calculated as a result of the June flooding, this didn’t meet the threshold for federal assistance.

This is proof that something is obviously wrong with this funding formula. State and federal officials need to take a look at the way disaster assistance is allocated and reconfigure it in a way that truly helps those in need.