ST. LOUIS -- The state of Illinois pushed anew Friday for federal disaster aid for five counties ravaged by deadly tornadoes, hoping to reverse the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s decision to deny the relief on grounds that damage estimates weren’t enough to merit the help.
Gov. Pat Quinn’s appeal to the Department of Homeland Security came just days after FEMA turned down the aid request but later gave the state more time to make a better case for the taxpayer assistance.
FEMA based its earlier decision on an assessment that 426 homes in five southern Illinois counties were damaged or destroyed by the Feb. 29 storms that killed seven people in Harrisburg, a town of 9,000 in Saline County. But Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois has insisted FEMA’s rejection was “out of touch with reality” and made before the storm damage was fully tallied.
Quinn said Friday that the storms actually leveled or seriously damaged 441 homes and more than 100 businesses in “the poorest part of Illinois,” justifying the need for federal help that is usable for everything from home repairs and temporary housing to crisis counseling.
“We’re all in this together,” Quinn told reporters in Chicago after he called and “implored” Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to free up the FEMA relief. “I think we did the maximum of what a state can do, and I think it’s important that the federal government help out as well.
“We will work as hard as we can to make this (federal aid) a reality,” Quinn added. “We will continue to push until it’s done right.”
The state’s full-court press Friday on behalf of Saline, Gallatin, Randolph, Union and Williamson counties included a letter to President Barack Obama from the state’s federal lawmakers, who wrote that “without help, this disaster may have provided a blow the local economy simply cannot recover from fully.”
It was not immediately clear how soon a decision on Illinois’ appeal may come.
Last week, FEMA also denied disaster aid to residents in several southern and northern Missouri counties hit by the storms. But aid was approved for Indiana and Kentucky communities that sustained damage during the same week.
FEMA has said its decision not to provide federal funds was based on various factors—such as how much homeowners’ insurance would cover, the state’s size and its ability to take care of those affected—and not simply on whether there was serious damage in Harrisburg. The assessment included volunteer and charity resources.
Illinois also is asking FEMA for funding to help local governments cover some of their expenses in recovering from the storm, including repairs to tornado-damaged infrastructure and overtime costs of emergency personnel.
Associated Press reporter Tammy Webber contributed from Chicago.