In Brief

Nine days after Ida, counties still waiting on FEMA disaster declarations

By: - September 10, 2021 7:02 am

Houses all over New Jersey, like this one in Elizabeth, were flooded when the remnants of Hurricane Ida tore through the state last week. (Daniella Heminghaus for New Jersey Monitor)

Ida-impacted New Jersey counties remain absent from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s list of initial major disaster declarations more than a week after the storm tore through New Jersey.

Some counties hammered by floods left by the remnants of the hurricane — like Hudson, Essex, Union, and Mercer — were not initially issued the declaration, which allows residents and businesses to directly petition FEMA for aid that can be used for home repairs and temporary housing, among other things.

Local officials in those counties are sharply critical of the delay. And while federal emergency management officials have been evaluating conditions in excluded counties since last week’s storm, the agency has not issued any new declarations, despite lawmakers’ statements that such aid would be recommended for some counties.

Rep. Mikie Sherrill (D-11) on Wednesday said FEMA officials would recommend the declaration be extended to Essex County, where towns like Bloomfield saw severe flooding, but no such addition was made Thursday.

“It’s simply unacceptable that impacted counties like Essex are still not included in [FEMA’s] major disaster declaration,” the congresswoman said on Twitter Thursday. “Red tape cannot get in the way of critical aid.”

Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-7) said Thursday FEMA officials told him they have all the ground assessment information they need to make declarations for Essex and Union. Hudson County Executive Tom DeGise said aid for the county was approved earlier this week, but it too remains without a major disaster declaration.

It’s not clear when any new declarations could come. A spokeswoman for Gov. Phil Murphy declined to comment, saying the decision lay with FEMA. Asked to comment, a FEMA spokesperson did not reveal any timeline.

FEMA teams were making assessments in Essex, Hudson, Union, and Mercer Wednesday, with additional assessments in Morris, Monmouth, and Burlington conducted Thursday.

The governor and state emergency management officials, including State Police Superintendent Col. Patrick Callahan, have said they expect the federal government to extend aid to additional counties, a sentiment echoed by Jen Psaki, President Joe Biden’s press secretary.

“I was there in the room when he spoke with Governor Murphy last week, and what he conveyed to him is, ‘You just tell me what we need — what you need and — what you need to help the people of New Jersey to recover, and we’re going to work to get you that,'” she told the press Wednesday. “The president is very amenable to hear what he needs.”

Residents of Bergen, Gloucester, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic, and Somerset Counties—the six that received the major disaster declaration can request direct federal aid at disasterassistance.gov.

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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.

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