Before a Penn Yan Village Board Meeting on Thursday, June 12, Mayor Leigh MacKerchar reported that he had just gotten off the phone with a reporter from the Finger Lakes Times asking him for his reaction that the FEMA threshold (amount of flood damage required before the Federal Government can send aid to an area) had been met. The Mayor was said, “I have not been notified of that yet.” The reporter replied that information was in a press release from Rep. Tom Reed.
This is showing us that when Rep. Reed gets important information, the first thing he does is to go to the Press instead of contacting the municipalities involved. Yates County administrator Sarah Purdy responded to the news with, “If in fact the threshold has been met, on the one hand I’m sorry that there’s been so much damage, but, on the other hand, it will relieve us dramatically from the fiscal stress of having to deal with this.” Like most leaders, she is waiting for official conformation of the information before proceeding.
(BTW, Mayor Mackerchar received the official notification of reaching the FEMA threshold on Monday, June 16 at 4:38)
Reed also reported that information as his top story in his weekly update. He said, “We’ve been encouraging the Governor’s office to seek assistance. We are following through to make sure our communities get the help they need.”
I don’t think our Governor needs to be encouraged. He has flown over the site in an helicopter and placed Lt. Governor Duffy in charge of the state’s involvement since Day 1. Duffy has been in constant contact with the County’s Emergency Management Director and has been seen in the Village talking to business and home owners. Less than ten days after the flooding even the Lt. Governor announced the State’s Disaster Recovery Assistant Program where home owners can get reimbursement up to $10,000 (businesses up to $25,000) for house damage and certain basic equipment (furnace, hot water heater, etc.). My niece and her husband own the Penn Yan Diner, and they received their funding in about a week after submitting the invoices and estimates. Rep. Reed doesn’t have to ‘encourage’ Governor Cuomo.
President Obama needs to declare the County (and parts of neighboring counties) as a disaster area before we can receive help from FEMA. Rep. Reed, as our representative, will probably be involved with announcing that information, too. In reality his Constituents Service Experts (those at his local offices) will be doing the leg and paper work.
Has Rep. Reed changed his stand of FEMA?
In 2o11, right after Hurricane Irene, and a series of tornadoes in the mid-west, and wildfires in the west, FEMA’s resources were drained. Then Tropical Storm Lee flooded the Southern Tier. At that point the Republican leaders wanted to cut FEMA funding by 55%. Ron Paul said that FEMA should be destroyed. There was talk of Shutting Down The Government. Rep. Reed voted NOT TO EXTEND FEMA funding to help the Southern Tier. An article in the Salamanca Press recorded Nate Shinagawa’s reaction to the Tropical Storm Lee event:
OLEAN – … At the time, Shinagawa, a Tompkins County legislator and Ithaca hospital administrator, was incident commander at Guthrie Hospital, with 238 patients, including a nursing home, hundreds of employees and more people who had been forced from their homes by floodwaters, seeking medical attention.
“After the flood, my own employees didn’t have a home,” the Democrat told The Olean Times Herald editorial board in a recent meeting. “There were 10,000 homes that were damaged or destroyed in the (Southern Tier). I was expecting more help from the federal government, especially FEMA, to help out these communities.
“Rep. Reed at that time was one of many members of Congress that wanted to see offsets somewhere else in the federal government before they would vote for increases in spending for the federal government,” Shinagawa said. ”Theoretically, it sounds nice. But when it came to FEMA funding, it was a disastrous mistake. What happened was that he voted against extending those FEMA funds at that time.
“The community was really shocked by it. I was shocked by it. This is his own back yard. These are the people he represents.”
That experience was the catalyst that propelled Shinagawa to run for Congress. He bested two Democratic opponents in the Democratic primary and also has the Working Families Party line.
“That was a real moment for me,” he said. “That was when I realized that I wanted to challenge Congressman Tom Reed.”
In 2014, Rep. Reed said that that he wants to “make sure our communities get the help they need.” That is a far cry from 2011 when he voted not to extend FEMA funding. Some may call it his right to change his mind. Others call it Political Maneuvering. You can’t have it both ways. The constituents know that actions speak louder than words.