Review of Federal Disaster Assistance to Two Libraries in Pennsylvania

Gao ID: CED-80-22 October 31, 1979

Following Tropical Storm Agnes in June, 1972, 13 Pennsylvania communities applied to the Federal Government for disaster assistance in order to repair flood damage to their public libraries. The applications were approved and funds were advanced to the communities because the Office of Emergency Preparedness believed that the libraries were publicly owned. In 1976 a question arose about the eligibility of the libraries for Federal assistance, and it was determined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that six of the libraries were ineligible for aid. By this time, Federal audit of the overall project claims for restoration had been completed for four of the libraries, and payment had been made to them by the Federal Disaster Assistance Administration. However, the remaining two libraries, the Osterhout Library in Wilkes-Barre and the West Pittston Library located in West Pittston, had not had their claims for disaster assistance audited and settled by Federal authorities at the time the question of ineligibility to receive such assistance was first raised.

The decision regarding the appropriate amount of relief for the communities of Wilkes-Barre and West Pittston on behalf of their libraries is essentially a policy judgment that must be made by the Congress. There appear to be two principal options: (1) limit the amount of relief to Federal funds actually advanced to the communities for library restoration before the determination of ineligibility; and (2) treat the libraries as if they had been eligible to receive Federal disaster assistance, and provide such assistance to the full extent of eligible costs incurred in restoration. The first option would result in unequal and inconsistent treatment of the the six communities involved. The second option would entail additional Federal payments to the City of Wilkes-Barre and the Borough of West Pittston to reimburse them for the remainder of eligible library restoration costs.

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