Federal lawmakers from Illinois say current regulations penalize smaller communities in states with big cities, reducing their ability to get aid.
(TNS) — Federal lawmakers from Illinois renewed their push Thursday to revise the aid formula used in determining how much the U.S. government provides to aid communities recovering from natural disasters.
U.S. Sens. Mark Kirk and Dick Durbin and downstate House members Cheri Bustos, Adam Kinzinger, Rodney Davis, John Shimkus and Mike Bost reintroduced a measure meant to blunt existing Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations that they say penalize smaller communities in states with big cities like Chicago, reducing their ability to get aid.
The existing formula, they say, hurt communities like Washington which were denied FEMA assistance in the wake of disasters like the Nov. 17, 2013, tornado that damaged or destroyed more than 1,000 homes there.
The measure was also introduced twice before unsuccessfully, after tornadoes in Harrisburg and in Washington.
Washington Mayor Gary Manier said that coming a day after tornadoes again ripped through Oklahoma, the bill's introduction is timely.
"Maybe it'll get some legs again and maybe we can fix this problem so different communities don't have to deal with this," he said.
The legislation, if passed, could still benefit Washington, though. It's actually retroactive to the year 2012, meaning FEMA could pick up the cost for city repairs — funds that then-Gov. Pat Quinn provided through $45 million in state grants beginning last March so the city wouldn't be left picking up the pieces on its own.
"The communities across our region of Illinois should receive fair treatment when it comes to qualifying for federal disaster assistance," Bustos, D-East Moline, said in a prepared statement. "This bipartisan effort will help ensure downstate Illinois communities are competing on a level playing field with other communities across the country when it comes to qualifying for the FEMA support they need to recover from natural disasters."
At issue is a FEMA formula that helps determine whether communities are eligible for aid that is weighted to disaster damage based on statewide population. The lawmakers' proposal would instead give greater weight to the extent of damage within the disaster area.
"Our formula for distributing federal disaster resources should be based on where the need is greatest, not arbitrary population numbers," U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, said in a prepared statement.
The bill isn't a firm guarantee that smaller downstate towns would get funds, though.
"Even without Chicago, it's still going to take a lot of devastation for downstate Illinois cities and counties," Manier said.
He also praised the legislators for sticking with their proposal despite it getting bogged down twice already.
"It would have been real easy to say that, well, the state came in and bailed us out and people are moving on with recovery," Manier said.
Absent from the lawmakers sponsoring the request was U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock. The Peoria Republican is resigning his seat March 31, so any sponsorship of legislation on his part would be short-lived.
©2015 Journal Star (Peoria, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.