HAMDEN, CT — Connecticut’s politicians, using a home and yard badly damaged by the May 15 tornado as a backdrop to make their point, said Tuesday they have introduced new legislation to end the ban on disaster relief to homeowners for fallen trees and debris.
Clearing fallen trees from a tornado, hurricane, or other major disaster can cost homeowners tens of thousands of dollars, but current the Federal Emergency Management Agency is unable to offer financial assistance.
Further, the cost of debris removal cannot currently be included in damage assessments provided by FEMA to the president, making it harder for states to qualify for needed disaster declarations and federal relief.
Following the May 15 supercell thunderstorms and tornadoes, some Connecticut homeowners faced costs of up to $70,000 for debris and tree removal, not covered by homeowners insurance.
While Connecticut is receiving federal disaster aid to cover public expenses in Fairfield and New Haven counties, individual property owners have been left to fend for themselves.
The Diversifying Emergency Benchmarks for the Recovery of Individuals After Storms (DEBRIS) Act would “enable retroactive aid for Connecticut homeowners saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in tree removal costs from the severe May 15 supercell storms,” U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said.
When extreme weather strikes—be it a tornado, hurricane or other disaster— homeowners rely on FEMA to cover the astronomical, unanticipated costs of restoring their lives and homes to normal, Blumenthal added.
“The blanket prohibition on aid for debris removal has left homeowners nationwide high and dry, and removing it is simply common sense,” he said.
Blumenthal said with another hurricane poised to hit Florida it is time to pass the legislation, stating he believes the bill will have bipartisan support.
“Tornadoes don’t hit blue states or red states,” Blumenthal said, “they hit the United States.”
Hamden was one of the towns hardest hit by the May 15th late afternoon tornado, where winds hit more than 100 miles per hour.
Curt Baselice, whose home was used as the backdrop for Tuesday’s press conference, said he considered himself fortunate, even though he estimated the storm did about $40,000 to $50,000 worth of damage to his septic system, roof and trees.
He said he was fortunate because a large group of volunteers came – some people he knew from work – and some who heard of the severe damage the storm did to his home – came and helped without charging him anything.
His next door neighbor, Jean Egri, however, wasn’t as lucky.
She said her family had four cars crushed by falling trees and said that they had to pay to have six trees removed.
“And then you have to factor in what happens to your insurance rates after you make the claims. They (the insurance rates) go up by 50 percent,” Egri said.
Also at the press conference was Alice Mick, who lived on nearby Shepard Avenue. She said that she lost “more than 100 trees” in her heavily-wooded lot.
The bill the Connecticut delegation authored would require FEMA to change their criteria to allow private property debris removal to be considered in a disaster declaration.
If a declaration is granted and individual assistance is authorized, debris removal could then be made eligible for federal funding. The bill would be retroactive to May 1, 2018, providing a path for Connecticut property owners to receive additional federal aid for the May 15 storms.
“The federal government has a key role to play in the aftermath of natural disasters like the tornadoes that struck Connecticut earlier this year. Families deserve to be made whole, but current law is preventing that,” U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro said.
Blumenthal added that one other reason the legislation is badly needed is that homeowners hit by storm damage face another costly issue.
“Debris removal is not covered (by insurance),” Blumenthal said. “That makes all this doubly unfair.”
Hamden Mayor Curt Leng said he considers the legislation proposed by the Connecticut delegation one that “fixes a flaw in the current statute.”
“The town’s costs are pushing $3 million from the tornado,” Leng said. “But we will be largely reimbursed for those costs. The residents are not being reimbursed.”