BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Biden administration almost immediately declared the severe winter weather and blizzard that hit Western New York during the Christmas holiday a federal emergency last year.
The action authorized Homeland Security and FEMA to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide assistance to save lives and protect property, public health and safety. However, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said it was only the first step needed for his home state.
"I spoke to President Biden about this on Air Force One, talked to his staff repeatedly and now they have given us everything we wanted," Schumer said.
Late Wednesday, Biden approved a major disaster declaration triggering the FEMA assistance programs. Under the declaration, Erie, Genesee and Niagara, as well as Suffolk and St. Lawrence counties elsewhere in the state, are eligible for funding to restore damaged publicly-owned infrastructure.
It also allows federal reimbursement for snow removal costs in Erie and Niagara.
"That will allow us unlimited dollars to reimburse localities for the payments that they incurred. Had this not happened, had they not included snow assistance, we would have only gotten $5 million which would have been too little," Schumer said.
Finally, FEMA will reimburse people who lost loved ones for the funeral expenses they incurred. Schumer said it is a rare but important action by the White House with nearly 50 dead in Western New York.
"Of course the funeral assistance is not anywhere near enough to fill the empty chair at the dinner table of those who lost a loved one in the storm, but I hope it will alleviate one burden during this trying time. The road to recovery is long and I'll keep fighting to deliver whatever federal assistance New York needs as families rebuild after this devastating storm," Schumer said.
FEMA said state and local officials will work together to identify individuals who qualify for funeral assistance. The governor, who requested the declaration, thanked the president, the New York delegation and the FEMA administration for providing "much-needed assistance."