Polito: Feds should consider cumulative impact of snowstorms

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, FEB. 25, 2015…Hoping to boost federal disaster relief funds, the Baker administration is pushing to have the federal government recognize the barrage of snowstorms over the past month as a single event.

Gov. Charlie Baker spoke with federal officials about disaster relief during a recent visit to Washington D.C. Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said Wednesday the quick succession of storms left little time for recovery, and told the Governor’s Council the storms were “very debilitating” and should be considered as one, although she said “it might be a long-shot.”

“It was quite clear to those in Washington that Massachusetts experienced a very unique event over the past 30 days,” Polito told the News Service. “And there is very little doubt that we will receive the declaration for the initial storm.”

Historic snow totals hit Massachusetts during the past month starting with a blizzard on Jan. 26, followed by three major snowstorms on successive weeks. Total snowfall in the city of Boston tipped over 100 inches Tuesday night to 101.8 inches, marking the second snowiest winter on record.

Baker said earlier this week that President Barack Obama told him he was aware of the snow’s impact and wanted to make sure his administration was doing everything it could to help.

There is still a question about whether the storms that followed the first blizzard will be counted in the equation that determines disaster relief, Polito said. The administration is working with the state’s Congressional delegation to ensure the federal government considers the storms as one event for federal funds, Polito said.

“It really started with that storm Feb. 14th, 15th, when it was clear we didn’t recover from the prior storms heading into the next storm,” Polito said. “So that cumulative effect kept setting us back and it is not until now that we’ve had close to a full recovery.”

The federal government’s policy is typically to reimburse 75 percent of the cost of snow removal, a figure that totaled “north of $80 million in state and local spending” for the first blizzard alone, Baker said Monday.

Polito said the administration expects to hear about federal reimbursement in the next couple of weeks. In the meantime, the Baker administration is talking to municipal officials about the possibility of expanding the incident time considered for relief funds.

Administration officials expect to have cost estimates for the initial storm soon, and by mid-March a better idea of the total costs associated with all the storms, according to Polito.

“I think we will be talking about snow and ice budgets for a while,” she said.

Copyright 2015 State House News Service

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