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Congresswoman Elizabeth Esty

Representing the 5th District of Connecticut

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Blumenthal, Murphy, DeLauro, Esty Introduce Debris Act to Allow Individual FEMA Aid for Trees, Debris Removal

October 9, 2018
Press Release
Current Law Prohibits FEMA Disaster Aid to Homeowners to Clear Fallen Trees Clearing Fallen Trees Can Cost Tens of Thousands of Dollars

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and Congresswomen Rosa DeLauro (CT-3) and Elizabeth Esty (CT-5) today announced introduction of the Diversifying Emergency Benchmarks for the Recovery of Individuals after Storms (DEBRIS) Act to end the harmful and unnecessary ban on federal disaster relief aid 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 federal law bars Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance. Homeowners insurance also does not typically cover removal of trees and debris that has not caused damage to a structure. Further, the cost of debris removal cannot currently be included in damage assessments provided to FEMA, 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 their own.

Specifically, the bill 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 new path for Connecticut property owners to receive additional federal aid for the May 15 supercell storms. 

Blumenthal said: “This bill 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. 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. The blanket prohibition on aid for debris removal has left homeowners nationwide high and dry, and removing it is simply commonsense.” 

Murphy said: “I met with homeowners in Hamden and saw firsthand the devastation this storm caused this community. I’m proud to support this bill, which would remove some of the hurdles families in Connecticut face to receive federal assistance to clean up the debris caused by storms. There’s no reason why homeowners should go bankrupt trying to repair their home after a storm.”

DeLauro said: “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. The DEBRIS Act would fix this problem by allowing fallen debris on personal property to be considered by FEMA during their decision process regarding providing individuals with federal assistance. It will also give the State of Connecticut another shot at receiving this assistance. That is why I am proud I introduce this bill with my Connecticut colleagues, and will fight hard to ensure it is passed into law.”

Esty said: “After this past May’s tornado and severe weather, I saw first-hand in communities across my district the damage and destruction that this storm left in its path. While I was there, I was touched to see such incredible displays of compassion as we met family after family working with their neighbors to make sure everyone was all right and taken care of. Now, FEMA should follow suit to do all that it can to ensure folks get the resources and supplies they need continue on the road to recovery. Several communities, such as Bridgewater, New Milford, and Roxbury continue to struggle cleaning up debris on their own after being denied federal assistance. There is still plenty of work to be done in order to make sure our friends, families, and neighbors receive the attention and supplies they need to get back on their feet.”

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