As Texas reels from an unprecedented February cold snap, electric cooperatives in the state’s Panhandle are still grappling with $20 million in damage from an Artic blast last October without federal disaster aid.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s current failure to address local impacts from a natural disaster is one of several issues NRECA is calling on the agency to fix on behalf of co-op-served communities.

“We urge FEMA to update its disaster declaration policy to recognize that a natural disaster can have severe impacts on a portion of a state and that FEMA’s current policy penalizes rural areas of states,” said Martha Duggan, NRECA senior director, regulatory affairs.

Co-ops may be eligible for FEMA grants that reimburse their recovery costs when damage is caused by an event declared a major disaster by the president, acting on a governor’s request and FEMA’s recommendation.

NRECA had lobbied to require FEMA to consider severe local impacts and multiple disasters when deciding whether to recommend a federal declaration. That provision was included in the Disaster Recovery Reform Act in 2018, but FEMA has yet to indicate how it will implement this portion of the law.

“Because FEMA has not implemented the new provision, people in the Panhandle of Texas were denied assistance,” Duggan said.

NRECA is asking FEMA to act now and establish a clear, comprehensive and transparent procedure for its disaster declaration recommendation process.

In addition, NRECA is urging FEMA to delay a proposal to increase the thresholds the agency analyzes in making disaster declaration recommendations. Such a move would compound the economic stresses from the COVID-19 pandemic that are already impacting electric co-ops and state and local governments.

“Once the economy is in recovery, FEMA should consider phasing in such a methodology and give those impacted by the change a chance to plan for it,” Duggan said.

NRECA provided its input as part of the comment period for the proposed rule for cost assistance estimates in the disaster declaration process for its public assistance program. FEMA has not offered a timeline for additional action on this proposal.