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Durbin: FEMA Funding System Disadvantages Illinois's Mississippi River Towns

Benjamin Payne
Illinois U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (left) meets with Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms at Schweibert Riverfront Park in downtown Rock Island to discuss flood recovery efforts

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois says many cities in Illinois affected by the historic flooding along the Mississippi River are getting short-changed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

During a Friday visit to Rock Island to learn from local officials about the city's flood prevention measures, the Democrat made his case for an overhaul to FEMA's funding system through his proposed Fairness in Federal Disaster Declarations Act.

Durbin said the current system requires communities in states with larger populations to record higher dollar amounts of disaster damage in order to qualify for federal assistance. This, he said, places a greater burden on small cities in big states, such as Rock Island.

His proposed legislation would assign weighted values to each criterion FEMA uses to distribute funds, which Durbin says would help even the playing field for communities across the Midwest.

The bill faces a long road to passage, though, if past attempts are any indication. Durbin first introduced the bill in 2012 without success, and most recently in 2017.

"It's hard politically," said Durbin, who is introducing the legislation with fellow Illinois Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth. "Those who have the money now under the current formula don't want to give up a nickel. And so it's very difficult, but we're not giving up. We believe that there's more that we can do."

Rock Island has been largely spared from major flood damage in 2019 due to its flood wall along the riverfront. However, the flooding has infiltrated the city-owned Sunset Marina, which Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms says has incurred up to $400,000 in damage.

Thoms says the Mississippi River will likely be low enough next week that city crews can remove the flood wall. The National Weather Service forecasts the river at the Quad Cities will fall below flood stage Monday night.