State appeals to FEMA for disaster aid tied to polar vortex

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – It may be hard to remember the January snowstorm that accompanied the polar vortex, but it’s back in the news because the federal government rejected a request for federal aid in Indiana.

The state is now appealing that decision.

The biggest reason is the effect on the city budget here in Indianapolis. Millions of dollars are at stake and it has a bearing on the condition of the roads and streets you drive every day.

The state appeal that calls for $13 million in disaster relief with the largest portion of that, $3 million, coming to the city of Indianapolis where snow removal costs have broken the budget.

“And our budget runs from January to December,” said Stephanie Sample, spokeswoman for the Department of Public Works, “so with the money that we have left, and we’ve overspent by $7 million, we have to pay for the first part of next winter as well.”

The rejection of the state’s request for a disaster declaration was made because the federal government believes that local governments can absorb the costs of the storm that took place in early January.

It’s the same reason that FEMA rejected a disaster aid for the Kokomo area following tornadoes in November of last year.

Damage from flooding in Central and Southern Indiana in April of 2013 also failed to produce federal grants but state officials say they won’t give up.

“If there’s an opportunity and we believe we have a strong case,” says John Erickson of the Indiana Department of Homeland Security, “it is our attitude that we’re gonna apply for that federal assistance.”

Getting that assistance, however, is a lot tougher than it used to be no matter what the disaster.

“They’re tightening the purse strings,” said Erickson.

City officials are now turning to the City County Council for help.

“We’re going to go to them in May,” said Sample, “and ask for them to release $7 million from the transportation general fund to reimburse us for that overspending that we did this winter.”

FEMA has granted eight disaster declarations tied to severe snow storms this winter but none of them are in Midwestern states who experienced the polar vortex.

Indiana, in the meantime, has not won an appeal to FEMA since 2007.

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