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President approves New York disaster declaration for December blizzard

The declaration will help cover up to 75% of state, county, and local governments snow removal costs for the massive and deadly December blizzard.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — In the wake of December's blizzard, which took 47 lives in Erie and Niagara counties and paralyzed the Buffalo area, the federal government has now officially signed off on a major disaster declaration. 

That will guarantee partial federal funding to help cover much of the costs of snow removal.  

From U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer, who told us: "I spoke to President Biden about this on Air Force One."

To Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who also said about the president, "I spoke to him in person when I was in Washington about a month ago."

Both political leaders were very pleased Thursday that their touted personal push helped get Western New York and other parts of the state, such as St. Lawrence and Suffolk counties, an as yet unspecified total of Federal FEMA Money. It will help cover up to 75 percent of state, county, and local governments snow removal costs for the massive and deadly December Christmas weekend blizzard. 

That money goes for incidentals as well.

"If a plow that was going down the road and got into an accident because it couldn't see where it was going and hit a parked vehicle, we could see partial reimbursement for that, not just the costs associated with snow removal," Poloncarz said.

But the costs for snow plow operators, equipment, and supplies such as salt should be covered for the most part as Majority Leader Schumer noted: "They have allowed snow removal become a part of the reimbursement costs which rarely happens."

That's because of a frustrating for some bureaucratic quirk with FEMA and its administrators.

"I don't understand the FEMA 'no dough for snow' type of attitude," Poloncarz said. "If a tornado hits a community, they cover it. FEMA can have an internal rule saying we're doing no dough for snow. Congress can change that. Congress can force FEMA to actually include snowstorms of note."

Again, this time they did cover most of it. But the remaining 25 percent matching share is still a local responsibility.

Poloncarz says Erie County's budget surplus helps.

"25 percent for some of these smaller communities could still be a substantial amount of money that they may not have in their budgets. But for Erie County, we can handle it," he said.

And then with the tragic fatalities of this storm: "They included funeral costs in the assistance so loved ones in the storm who were lost, their funeral expenses will be reimbursed. This doesn't happen every day. In fact it's rare that this has ever been done," Poloncarz said.

FEMA's programs have in addition covered some funeral expenses for families of those who died from COVID. And sources say families of some victims of Hurricane Sandy also were reimbursed.    

A source also tells 2 On Your Side that some local governments may be able to seek out help with their local share of storm costs with certain reimbursements for emergency services performed by volunteer firefighters or volunteer EMS services in their area. 

Some local governments may also still tabulating exact storm costs even though most such figures with estimates had to be turned over already to the state as part of its overall submission for FEMA aid.    

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