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Tornado-damaged Ill. village upset over aid denial

Published: Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014 12:04 a.m. CDT

GIFFORD – Residents of a central Illinois village hit by a powerful November tornado say they’re upset and bewildered by a federal decision this week to deny a state request for aid to reimburse local governments for cleanup and repairs – a judgment Gov. Pat Quinn has vowed to appeal.

Around two dozen tornadoes damaged or destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in Illinois on Nov. 17. The one that raked through Gifford, a small farming community of just under 1,000 people, leveled around 70 homes and damaged the village’s water systems.

The owner of Gifford’s North Forty bar, Mike Swinney – whose own home was destroyed – told The (Champaign) News-Gazette he couldn’t fathom how the U.S. government chose not to provide the aid.

“We give all this money to foreign countries and stuff and ... we’re basically surviving on well water,” he said.

Added Lorin Schluter, the owner of Bibb’s restaurant, “It’s a snub of the nose.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency notified Illinois on Thursday it had denied the request for $6.1 million to reimburse part of what local governments spent on cleanup and repairs, ruling the infrastructure damage wasn’t severe enough to warrant the federal help.

Gov. Pat Quinn said Friday that Illinois would appeal FEMA’s decision, including by arguing that recent frigid temperatures have further complicated cleanup efforts. Illinois has 30 days to file its appeal.

State officials say FEMA’s formula for calculating the threshold for local government losses that qualify for the aid – set at $17.8 million for Illinois – works against large states, like Illinois, with heavily populated cities. The threshold is determined by multiplying a state’s population by $1.35, so it would be lower for states with smaller populations, according to Illinois officials.

Among the communities most in need is Washington, about 90 miles northwest of Gifford, where more than 1,000 homes were damaged or destroyed. The deaths of seven people have been directly tied to the November tornadoes.

It’s not as if there’s been no federal help.

President Barack Obama earlier declared more than a dozen Illinois counties major disaster areas, thereby making federal funding available to affected individuals, including to residents of Gifford. That assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, as well as low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses.

But FEMA’s decision not to help the state of Illinois reimburse local governments made some in Gifford less hopeful about their individual applications. That includes Dana Cler, who asked for federal help to pay for nearly $5,000 in damage to his car, which was struck by storm debris.

“If they denied the village of Gifford,” he said about his application, “I’m not feeling good about this.”

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Information from: The News-Gazette, http://www.news-gazette.com

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