By Aaron C. Davis and Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2010; A08
Maryland lawmakers said the Obama administration agreed Wednesday to let the region's governments apply for federal aid for the past two storms simultaneously, a move that would allow Maryland, Virginia and the District to seek more money and quicker reimbursement for the cleanup costs of both mammoth snowfalls.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator W. Craig Fugate said that although decisions would be made case by case, the administration is receptive to issuing presidential disaster declarations for the three jurisdictions.
Officials said the money they expect to receive might rival or surpass federal relief for any natural disaster to strike the Washington area.
Maryland, the District and Virginia are seeking help with the millions of dollars they have paid to clear roads, activate National Guard units and keep plow operators, police and firefighters working around the clock. The federal government would reimburse 75 percent of those costs.
In Maryland, officials said their share of federal aid for snow removal probably would eclipse the money state and local governments received for the cleanup of Hurricane Isabel in 2003.
In Virginia, officials said it was too early to tell whether storm costs might exceed Isabel's, which is also that state's high watermark for federal disaster relief. State and local governments received $130 million then, and Virginia has requested $50 million to cover costs from December's storm. Subsequent costs easily could total another $50 million or more.
D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said it is too early to begin calculating the costs of the latest cleanup. But Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) said she thinks the entire region qualifies for a presidential emergency declaration. If none is declared, she said, she would ask Congress to add funding to the District's appropriation to help the city pay for the cleanup.
"We have spared no amount of effort, no expense, no assets," Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) said Wednesday at a news conference in the state's emergency operations center. He said federal aid would be critical because Maryland governments have spent so much money to overcome the paralyzing storms.
O'Malley, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) and Fenty all pledged Wednesday to seek presidential disaster declarations. That also would allow small businesses and individuals to seek low-interest loans to cover storm-related damage.
The decision to count two separate weather systems -- the weekend storm dubbed Snowmageddon and the blizzard that gripped the region Wednesday -- as one disaster appeared to be worked out at least in part Wednesday morning, in phone calls between Napolitano and state and federal representatives in Maryland.
O'Malley announced at noon that Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.) had urged Napolitano to do everything possible to help the state, which is grappling with a nearly $2 billion shortfall as a result of the recession, as well as record costs for snow removal.
Hours later, Mikulski issued a statement recounting the conversation: "Secretary Napolitano said she would call it the Valentine's Day Storm," Mikulski said. "I said, 'Don't send chocolates, don't send flowers, send dough for snow.' This storm has been a whiteout for Maryland's state budget. We can't let this snow disaster turn into a budget disaster for Maryland."
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) later issued a statement saying he also had received assurances from Napolitano, who oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency, that FEMA would consider the two storms as one and that requests for federal aid would be processed promptly. Hoyer said he also would support efforts by the D.C. government to apply for a disaster declaration.
Fugate, the administrator of FEMA, said that because jurisdictions slammed by last weekend's storm were still digging out when Wednesday's hit, it would be difficult to determine which storm was responsible for costs such as removing downed trees.
"We're going to have to factor that in," Fugate said. "It's going to be difficult to separate costs." He acknowledged the extraordinary impact on the District, Virginia and Maryland, but said decisions about whether jurisdictions can count both storms as one would be made case by case.
In a statement, Napolitano said she also had spoken with the governors of Delaware and West Virginia.
"This is a team effort and we will continue to work with our partners as the storm develops and the recovery process begins," she said.
Staff writers Tim Craig, Rosalind Helderman, Anita Kumar and Nikita Stewart contributed to this report.