Federal disaster funds to likely become available for D.C. snowstorm

Authorities in the greater Washington area will likely be eligible to collect federal disaster relief funds as a result of two massive snowstorms that hit the region, as a result of a ruling made Wednesday.

Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D) said that Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano agreed to consider as one storm the two large snowstorms that hit the region right after one another. Federal reimbursement for snow removal and road treatment is only eligible for record storms and each storm separately may not have reached that threshold.

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The White House has not yet made a final disaster declaration.

"Secretary Napolitano said she would call it the Valentine's Day Storm," Senator Mikulski said. "I said, 'Don't send chocolates, don't send flowers, send dough for snow.' This storm has been a white-out for Maryland's state budget. We can't let this snow disaster turn into a budget disaster for Maryland."

Disaster relief funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which falls under the Department of Homeland Security, are slated to become available after the two separate snowstorms dumped nearly three feet of snow on the Washington, D.C. area since last Friday.

In addition to FEMA dollars, the D.C. National Guard has been called to shuttle emergency personnel and doctors to and from critical sites.

"Our missions have been almost nonstop since the last storm,” Lt. Col. Kevin McAndrews said on Fox News Wednesday. “We had a little bit of a break in between, but we've been operating 247 to try to get these personnel to their jobs."

Public works authorities have experienced trouble clearing snow from roadways, sidewalks and transit lines.

Even though snow continues to fall in the area, Maryland has already spent $70 million responding to the storms. D.C. and Virginia have also spent millions. It’s not clear if the latter two will ask for federal assistance but Maryland is expected to make the request.

The federal government has been closed since Monday after snow paralyzed the region. So far, the closure has cost the government $200 million in lost productivity, according to the Office of Personnel Management.

Closures could cost the federal government a half-billion dollars by week’s end if it does not reopen.

The massive snow drifts and high winds have also kept lawmakers away from Capitol Hill, stalling several legislative items under consideration.

Weather conditions have also stifled traffic at the regions three airports, making it difficult for some lawmakers to return to the nation’s capital after they returned to their home districts at the end of last week.

Poor travel conditions have caused the House of Representatives to call of its votes for the rest of the week and the Senate to cancel its votes Wednesday.

Fifteen senators missed votes on Tuesday, indicating that Democrats would likely not have enough support to pass a jobs bill by Friday, as Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) had hoped.

The Senate and House are also expected to keep their President’s Day recesses next week, making it likely they will return for votes the following week.

Many D.C. tourist attractions have also been shut down because of the snow, including the Smithsonian museums and the Capitol Visitors Center.