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Winter storms zap city budgets. Will FEMA help with snow plowing costs?

As another mega-storm bears down on a large swath of the US, snow-encrusted cities and states scramble to cover rising costs of snow plowing. FEMA might help, but qualifying for aid isn't easy.

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Second, the state or county must have exceeded the costs of snow removal for the state and the area on a per capita basis, based on a FEMA formula, within that time constraint. Costs that are eligible include snow removal, salting and sanding, any sheltering expense, overtime, and hiring private contractors to remove snow. But if a town has insurance, it won’t be able to collect from FEMA if the insurer pays.

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In Connecticut, Mr. Boynton asked all 169 towns in the state to send him information on their snow-removal costs. And his department is working with the National Weather Service (NWS) to obtain official counts of the snowfall total.

As of Monday, Boynton had received replies from 157 towns. “The preliminary numbers look very, very good, but we still don’t know if we will be eligible for federal disaster aid,” he says.

The storm that really whacked Connecticut was the Jan. 11-12 blizzard, which dumped between 14 and 30 inches of snow. The state spent $4.5 million on that one storm, says Kevin Nursick, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation. The state has spent $18.5 million of its $26.5 million snow-removal budget for the season, he estimates.

Boynton expects that there has been enough of the white stuff to constitute a record for most Nutmeg State municipalities. NWS is convening a climactic panel to make an official determination about whether it was a record storm, he says.

Even if a community proves it had a record snowfall over 48 hours, that is it no guarantee of a FEMA check. For example, Connecticut applied for federal aid last March after storms ravaged and flooded the state. “We have to go through with FEMA to make sure all the numbers meet their criteria,” says Boynton. “FEMA has a fairly high degree of validation of costs and it has to be validated within the eligible area.”

Last year, most of FEMA’s snow disbursements were in states not normally considered part of the snow belt. As of Jan. 31, FEMA had sent checks totaling about $169 million to Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and the District of Columbia. But the largest check was for $68 million to Oklahoma for the blizzards of December 2009 and January 2010. The agency is still processing other applications, so more checks may be in the mail, assuming the US Postal Service letter carriers can get through the snow drifts.

Leigh Montgomery in Boston contributed to this report.

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