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Feds OK loans for Gaylord tornado after Biden rejects disaster request

Kayla Ruble
The Detroit News

The state of Michigan announced on Wednesday that the federal government has denied a request for a major disaster declaration after the deadly Gaylord tornado in May, but has granted other federal assistance.

President Joe Biden issued the rejection for disaster relief on July 2. After that bid failed, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer submitted a separate disaster declaration request to the Small Business Administration, which the federal agency granted, her office announced Wednesday.

Whitmer made the initial disaster request on June 8, after state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency completed preliminary damage assessments of the northern Michigan city after the EF3 tornado struck, killing two people and injured dozens more. Winds registered at more than 150 mph, the National Weather Service said. 

While traveling south on Intestate 75 around 4 p.m., Angela Russ photographed this scene of storm damage near Gaylord. A tornado touched down, causing damage to this camper dealership near exit 282 on Friday, May 20, 2022.

“This declaration is an important step in getting the necessary support and resources to the Gaylord community,” Whitmer said in a statement announcing the SBA approval.

“It is clear this tornado had devastating impacts in Otsego County. These loans will allow people and businesses to begin rebuilding and will ensure the community continues to move forward.” 

The statement did not say how much assistance was available through the agency, but Whitmer’s request was for $7.45 million in home loans and $10.2 million in business loans. The SBA disaster assistance will make low-interest loans available to residents and businesses affected by tornado.

According to FEMA’s website, the major disaster declaration would have offered a wide range of federal assistance programs. If that request had been granted, those funds would have provided help for individuals and public infrastructure. 

The president has sole discretion over emergency declaration requests, which can be granted for any natural event such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

Before the president makes a decision, FEMAconducts damage assessments to determine  the extent and cost of the damage. 

The state must show that the estimated costs of the disaster are more expensive than the state and local governments can afford and how much of the damage is covered by insurance policies.

FEMA does not provide assistance for damage that is already covered, or should be covered, by insurance, according to federal law. Those costs are not included in the damage assessment estimates used for requesting federal assistance. 

FEMA on Wednesday evening, said it had determined that the state and local governments, along with volunteer organizations, are able to cover the cost of the damage on their own without the need for additional federal disaster assistance. 

“Accordingly, we have determined that supplemental federal assistance is not necessary,” a FEMA Region 5 representative said in an emailed statement.

According to the governor’s June 8 disaster request letter to the president, the property assessments determined the areaneeded about$890,000 in housing and non-housing related assistance. 

It was not the first time Michigan has had an emergency disaster declaration request denied by a president in recent years.

In 2016, then-President Barack Obama rejected a major disaster declaration request made by Gov. Rick Snyder inovolving contaminated water in Flint. 

According to the information in the governor's request to Biden, 34 homes were destroyed in the tornado. In total, there were more than 190 homes affected by the storm, while nearly 200 households were determined to be eligible for some form of assistance for things like repairs or temporary housing.

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