The time has come for the state to establish a fund specifically for addressing victims of natural disasters such as those caused by the recent flooding.
State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, urged Gov. Tom Corbett and colleagues in the state Legislature to take swift action toward making it happen during a hearing in Harrisburg on Tuesday.
"The severe weather events of the summer have pointed out the strong need for such a fund, and many who testified at the hearing echoed that need," Everett said. "The damage that was wrought by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in many parts of the commonwealth put stress on local budgets, many to the breaking point."
In addition to setting up a fund, the lawmaker is pushing for municipalities to be allowed to address stream needs and prevent future flooding. It would include removal of debris from creeks and rivers and stream bank remediation.
Everett, who spoke before a joint hearing of the Senate and House Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committees, was planning to meet with state Department of Environmental Protection officials to discuss the issue.
He said the state is losing valuable farmland in part due to DEP's "hands-off" policy and the bureaucracy and engineering costs needed to acquire permits to work on streams.
"We are just talking about streamlining some regulations," he said..
Everett said the dollars for the disaster fund can be drawn in part from the state's surplus monies. Another option is to tap the state's Johnstown Flood Tax.
The only snag, he said, is ensuring that money directed to those in need of the funding does not conflict with Federal Emergency Management Agency dollars.
"There are ways you can do it," he said. "Twenty-five other states have figured it out."
Once in place, the funding would be a great asset to victims during times when the state fails to meet the guidelines for federal dollars.
"I think that there are ways to fund these kind of disasters as they come up," Everett said. "This is not something that hasn't been talked about before. But because of the magnitude of things that came up, we have the political will now."