Legislature(2009 - 2010)BELTZ 105 (TSBldg)
02/04/2010 09:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS
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SB 216-GRANTS TO DISASTER VICTIMS 9:02:33 AM CHAIR MENARD announced the first order of business to come before the committee would be SB 216. MCHUGH PIERRE, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (DMVA), said that in addition to state disasters, two presidential disasters were declared in 2009: flooding on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and mudslides in Kodiak. He explained that the Legislature implemented Individual Assistance Grants in 1977 in the amount of $5,000 which go to victims who have no other means of recovery, such as insurance or savings. Mr. Pierre felt that $5,000 was an inadequate amount to help people get back on their feet during the 2009 disasters. He noted the purpose of the Individual Assistance Grant is not to make disaster victims whole again, but to help them start to recover. He felt the grant amount should be increased to half of the federal amount which is adjusted annually by the consumer price index; in 2009 it was $30,300 and in 2010 it dropped to $29,900. The proposed amount [for the Individual Assistance Grants] was thus $14,950 or half of the 2010 federal grant amount. He pointed out that $14,950 would be a maximum and does not mean that every person would get that amount. SENATOR PASKVAN asked how much more money would have been distributed in 2009 if the $14,950 grant amount was in place. He asked what the rationale is for the 50 percent of the federal standard. MIKE O'HARE, Deputy Director, Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said that after the 2008 Tanana floods, a multi-agency task force considered the Individual Grant Program and modernization of disaster assistance according to the current economy. The task force included Homeland Security and Emergency Management, DMVA, Health and Social Services, Commerce Community Economic Development, [Department of] Labor, and the federal Department of Agriculture. The task force suggested increasing the grant amount to half of the Federal Individual Assistance amount, similarly allowing fluctuation with the consumer price index and the economy. Mr. O'Hare pointed out that the state is not an insurance company but does try to help [disaster victims] get some normalcy back, such as heating systems, subsistence tools or other appropriate, eligible costs. He stressed that the grants are not issued lightly but involve an intricate application process utilizing staff who go to the affected communities, set up disaster assistance centers, interview the victims and identify losses and proof of loss. 9:08:35 AM MR. O'HARE said a mechanism is needed to increase the cap amount of the grant while allowing it to fluctuate with the economy. MR. PIERRE explained that a presidential disaster is much larger than a state disaster and the grants should not be equal. He reported that the majority [of last year's disaster victims] were covered by, and received money from, the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). A disaster victim can only receive money from either the federal or state program, not both. Only about 30 people received state Individual Assistance Grants during the Interior flooding. MR. O'HARE said if all eligible state victims had been given the proposed maximum amount, it would have equated to $600,000 to $700,000. He felt that having provided eligible people with a $5,000 check was nothing. SENATOR KOOKESH asked how a person's eligibility for federal versus state funding is determined. MR. O'HARE replied that a federal disaster declaration, requested by the Governor, considers the communities affected. In the 2009 flooding, the communities along the Kuskokwim River and other smaller communities with about 30 affected families were identified. The federal government approved the disaster declaration for the widespread Yukon Kuskokwim communities. Due to the lack of widespread damage in the other, smaller communities, those 30 individual affected families did not qualify for federal aid. 9:10:51 AM CHAIR MENARD said she appreciated that the amount [of the Individual Assistance Grant] had not been looked at in 20 years and that the increased amount would be the maximum allowable grant. SENATOR MEYER moved to report SB 216 from committee with individual recommendations and attached fiscal note(s). There being no objection, the motion carried.