By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE — The Obama administration has quickly denied Gov. Charlie Baker’s appeal for additional federal money to help the state and its municipalities cover the estimated $350 million in expenses racked up over the winter to clear snow, repair damaged facilities and take emergency protective measures for residents.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig Fugate sent a letter to Baker on Tuesday denying his request that impacted communities be allowed to apply for reimbursement for snow-related costs incurred over a 72-hour period, up from the 48 hours previously approved by FEMA.
Fugate, in his letter returned just five days after Baker made the appeal, said that the snowfall that occurred during the two-day blizzard in late January that has already qualified for a major disaster declaration from the president does not meet the criteria to warrant an extension of the time period for snow assistance.
“Our administration requested an increased timeframe for snow removal costs, with the support of the entire federal delegation, and is disappointed that FEMA rejected this appeal to reimburse the Commonwealth after an unprecedented winter that strapped our municipalities and state agencies,” Baker said in a statement. “We will work closely with FEMA to ensure cities and towns are reimbursed under the approved declaration and able to make necessary infrastructure repairs.”
Obama on April 13 declared a major disaster for 10 counties in Massachusetts stemming from the blizzard on Jan. 26 through Jan. 28 that kicked off a 28-day stretch of record-breaking snowfall and extreme cold that strained government resources and brought parts of the state to a standstill for days at a time.
The Baker administration estimates that through February the state, as well as cities and towns, spent upwards of $350 million on snow removal and related expenses, sapping snow budgets and forcing many communities to deficit spend.
FEMA rejected Baker’s initial request to consider the entire period from late January through the end of February a single disaster eligible for reimbursement, but the governor, who met personally with Vice President Joe Biden, said he had been assured that the agency would be “flexible” in making eligibility determinations.
Baker last week filed an appeal with FEMA seeking to extend the period in late January eligible for 75 percent reimbursement of snow removal costs from 48 hours to 72 hours. The entire Massachusetts Congressional delegation wrote letter to Obama supporting the governor’s request.
FEMA policy requires that a snow event must exceed record snowfall by 50 percent to qualify for the 24-hour extension. Though the snowfall during the initial blizzard did not hit that threshold, Baker said there are “alternate but meaningful ways to measure extraordinary impact.”
Citing the confluence of extreme snow and low temperatures for an extended period of time this winter, Baker also argued to FEMA officials that the agency also had discretion under federal rules to evaluate “extenuating circumstances.”
Fugate, in denying Baker’s appeal, said FEMA would continue to work with the administration as the assistance provided under the initial disaster declaration “contributes to Massachusetts’ overall recovery from this event.”
Baker is in Washington D.C. on Wednesday to meet with members of the Congressional delegation, and to sit down with Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Matthews Burwell on a separate request to delay changes in the state’s small business health insurance market until the state can formally file for a waiver from portions of the Affordable Care Act.
He also plans to meet with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Transportation Victor Mendez before returning to Massachusetts in the evening.