Whitmer asks FEMA to reconsider decision to exclude Macomb, Oakland from disaster relief

Hayley Harding
The Detroit News

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is appealing the Federal Emergency Management Agency's decision to not include Macomb and Oakland counties in the emergency declaration made after heavy rains and floods hit Metro Detroit in June.

At present, the disaster declaration covers only Wayne and Washtenaw counties. FEMA's denial means people affected by the June flooding in Macomb and Oakland counties aren't eligible for the same grants, low-cost loans and other programs, according to the release.

Flooding on Interstate 94 looking westbound near Livernois Avenue in Detroit on June 27, 2021.

"The damage to homes from this flooding event was significant in the counties of Washtenaw and Wayne," La-Tanga Hopes, a FEMA spokesperson, wrote in an email. "However, based on the review of all the information available at the time ... it has been determined that the impact to the individuals and households in the counties of Macomb and Oakland is not of such severity and magnitude to warrant their designation for Individual Assistance."

That was based on results from joint assessment teams, Hopes said. Those joint teams typically include FEMA personnel as well as state and local officials. 

In a letter addressed to President Joe Biden and acting FEMA Regional Administrator Moises Dugan dated Friday, Whitmer wrote that additional teams have since taken a look at the areas affected and that "it has become apparent that federal assistance is critically needed to support the recovery of disaster survivors" in Macomb and Oakland counties as well.

In total, she wrote, assessment teams found 239 homes — 125 in Macomb and 114 in Oakland — that were affected as a result of the storms, including 18 with major damage. Per capita, she went on to say, Washtenaw County had a similar number of damaged homes as Oakland County and fewer than Macomb. The damage disproportionately affects "particularly vulnerable residents," including those with disabilities, those who live below the poverty line and those who don't speak English very well, she wrote.

"The State of Michigan can provide limited financial assistance to help offset the cost-share for Individual Assistance, but it does not have funding to address all disaster-related losses without federal assistance," Whitmer wrote.

After delivering a newborn baby earlier in the day, Dr. Lisa Ahee clears debris from a clogged storm drain for her neighbors in Grosse Pointe Shores on Friday, June 25, 2021. All-day rains caused flash flooding in some areas.

Resources to recover from the floods have been reduced by other emergencies, she said, including the gasoline spill in Flat Rock that forced hundreds of households to evacuate.

FEMA said the appeal request is now under review.

The heaviest rainfall and consequential flooding fell on June 25 and 26. Whitmer declared a state of emergency on June 26 for Wayne County and later added Huron, Ionia and Washtenaw counties. Biden issued a disaster declaration on July 15, which Whitmer requested be expanded on Aug. 27. That request was denied by FEMA on Sept. 2.