WILSON, NY - Governor Andrew Cuomo traveled to Niagara County on Thursday, to provide an update on the state's effort to make financial aid available for flood-stricken residents along the Lake Ontario shore.
Before a large gathering at the Sunset Bar and Grill on O'Connell Island, Cuomo also continued his criticism of the bi-national commission that regulates lake levels, calling on its board members to be replaced.
Changes made to Aid Package.
The $45 million approved by Cuomo for affected homes, businesses, and municipalities is only half of what the state legislature originally passed for the relief effort.
Part of the reason that he declined to sign the measure unless the amount was slashed, according to the Governor, was that there is currently no evidence that $90 million — as approved by lawmakers — is the amount needed to address the issue.
“If the damages exceed the amount agreed to, I have no problem going back to the legislature and getting more money,” said Cuomo.
Controversial Income Eligibility Requirements Tempered
The Governor noted income eligibility requirements for those who sustained damage to their permanent homes has also been waived as part of the current agreement.
While the threshold for assistance had previously been set at 1-1/2 times the medium area income, (which would equate to $71,000 in Niagara County) it is also true that many of those with the means to have homes along the waterfront still had incomes far above that.
Thus, many residents had feared that the income eligibility thresholds established earlier would leave them out of luck for any assistance.
It should be noted however, that the waiver of the income eligibility requirements is only for those whose waterfront homes serve as their primary residence.
In the case of home sustaining damage which serves as a secondary home, such as a summer cottage, assistance will only be available to those whose household income is less than $275,000 annually.
Seeking Federal Help
Meanwhile, Cuomo announced that the state will seek additional assistance from the Federal Emergency management Agency (FEMA), though it has yet to be determined if the damage amounts here have met the threshold for federal assistance.
“I want to make sure we count all the damages before we go to FEMA and that will be in the coming weeks. And I expect to meet the threshold,” Cuomo said.
Calls On President To Appoint New IJC Members
In addition, while saying he has no doubt the heavy rains of this spring contributed to the high lake levels which lead to flooding, Cuomo continued to lay some of the blame at the feet of the International Joint Commission (IJC) — the bi-national agency which regulates lake levels, and which he says failed to act early enough to try and stem the tide of flooding.
The members of its board are appointed jointly, by the U.S. and Canadian Governments.
“So today we are calling on President Trump to replace those appointees on the IJC, and put in appointees who know what they are talking about and who know the Great Lakes. And he can do that immediately,” said Cuomo, to the largest round of applause he received from the crowd during the event.
The IJC adopted the controversial “Plan 2014” for lake levels, the parameters of which many contend are responsible for the problems now being encountered.