State requests 100% federal disaster funding to pay storm costs

Alaska officials are asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide 100% of the funds necessary for Western Alaska communities to recover from damages inflicted by Typhoon Merbok. That would match the 100% funding that was committed to help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Fiona in President Joe Biden’s federal disaster declaration.

Typically, FEMA covers 75% of disaster-relief costs, leaving the remainder to be matched by state, local or tribal governments.

For Western Alaska, “we feel that that’s just not acceptable, particularly with how fast we need to move and the status of the communities out there.” Bryan Fisher, director of the state Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, said at a Sept. 22 news conference held by Gov. Mike Dunleavy.

Along with the Dunleavy administration, which has submitted a request for a presidential disaster declaration, the Alaska congressional delegation argued the case for 100% cost coverage in a letter sent last Thursday to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell. The three-member delegation cited socioeconomic factors in the rural region as well as the rapid approach of winter.

The typhoon-driven winds and flooding Sept. 17 slammed a 1,000-mile swath of coastline.

The coastal communities affected by Typhoon Merbok are “experiencing high levels of unemployment and poverty, and it is likely that many homes are not insured against the losses experienced. Additionally, the cost of providing immediate temporary housing will impede the financing available for housing construction,” the letter said.

“As you consider requests for storm recovery funding and cost shares across the nation, including for Puerto Rico … we expect you to deliver an equitable decision in Alaska,” the letter said.

Criswell, who has been in Puerto Rico, is traveling to Alaska herself to survey the damage.

In case the 100% coverage is not provided immediately by FEMA, the governor has requested $10 million from a state emergency fund, Fisher said.

As winter freeze approaches and is expected to arrive in Western Alaska in about four weeks, the speed of federal aid is critical, officials said.

Dunleavy, at his news conference, said he made that point earlier in the day in a phone call with Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas.

“I just said to him, ‘Look, the damage may not be as extensive as in Puerto Rico or some of the other places where they have hurricanes. But it’s our timeline that’s the issue. It’s our remoteness that’s the issue. It’s our lack of infrastructure that’s the issue,’” Dunleavy said.

President Joseph Biden last Friday approved the state’s request for a major disaster declaration from the recent storms that battered Western Alaska, unlocking additional aid to help communities with their ongoing recovery efforts.

“Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster,” reads the declaration. It does not address the state’s request for 100% funding.

According to the Department of Transportation, the state has secured federal highway relief funds, and is making $15 million available for contractors to begin repair work to roads.

In addition, the Interior Department is allocating $2.6 million through the Bureau of Indian Affairs to 45 communities for purchasing food, water and other critical supplies.

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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