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Baker announces projected $120 million in federal snow aid

Governor Charlie Baker, joined by emergency management officials, on Wednesday announced a projected $120 million in federal reimbursements.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff

FRAMINGHAM — Governor Charlie Baker, who parlayed calm oversight of last winter's monster snowstorms into the highest job approval rating of any American governor, on Wednesday announced a projected $120 million in federal reimbursements for state, city, town, and nonprofit storm costs.

The figure, though less than half of what the Republican had requested from President Obama, would represent the largest single amount of federal disaster aid in the history of Massachusetts.

The infusion of cash, which includes about $60 million earmarked for city and town reimbursements, could be a boon to municipal bean-counters, whose finances were painfully stretched by snowplow and public safety overtime outlays.


It could also be politically favorable to Baker who, as a Republican in a state that is not, would be particularly aided by a boost from thankful local officials should he run for reelection in 2018.

City officials lavished praise and gratitude on Baker during a press conference at Massachusetts' main emergency bunker in Framingham, from which much of this year's snow response was coordinated.

Worcester City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. said the city had put $4 million in its snow budget but ended up spending about $6.5 million.

"These reimbursements allow us not to have to lay off policemen or firemen or schoolteachers in order to cover the snow costs from last winter," he said. "It's a crucial help, and I want to add my appreciation to the governor and to his administration."

Baker took office just days before he was gobsmacked by the seemingly endless snowfall. After the big storms, he and the state's congressional delegation fought hard to get as much money as possible.

Initially, he asked for a major disaster declaration that ran from Jan. 26 through Feb. 22, estimating the total cost to state and local governments from the severe winter was "near $400 million." His administration hoped for reimbursement of about three-quarters of those costs, which include snow removal and fixing infrastructure, or about $300 million.


The Obama administration ended up, in line with usual practice, declaring just the first big January storm a major disaster.

That meant cities, towns, and some nonprofits like hospitals were able to apply for reimbursement of certain snow removal and infrastructure repair costs — and, if approved, get 75 percent of them paid by the federal government.

Eligible costs include snow plow contracts, public safety overtime, repairing public buildings, roads, ports, and other similar items.

Towns, for instance, applied to have some of their costs repaid. If their applications are approved after winding through the state and federal bureaucracies, the money will be released from the federal government to the state for distribution, explained Kurt N. Schwartz, director of the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency.

MEMA has distributed nearly $24 million in federal aid so far, and the rest of the money is expected to be disbursed by early next year.

Baker thanked the congressional delegation for its "help, advocacy, and assistance" in the effort.

Paul F. Ford, administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency region that includes New England, said at the press conference that over the last year the president has declared 77 major disasters. The only one that may garner greater federal reimbursements than the Massachusetts snowstorm is flooding and storm damage in South Carolina.


A spokeswoman for Mayor Martin J. Walsh of Boston said the city has already been reimbursed $2.8 million for part of its contracted snow removal costs. And, Bonnie McGilpin said, the city hopes for an additional $1.2 million.

In a statement, Walsh, a Democrat, said he is grateful to the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Baker administration for helping to get the money "as we prepare for another winter in Boston."

Mayor Joseph M. Petty of Worcester, also a Democrat, was even more robust in his thanks in a statement.

"Through that historic winter both the governor and the lieutenant governor were never more than a phone call away," he said. "Every time they answered the phone their first question was simply, 'What else can we do for your city?' "

But given the season, officials in the Framingham bunker, built at the height of the Cold War, were also mulling the winter ahead.

The governor said "we learned a ton of lessons" from the winter weather and intend to apply them to the months ahead.

"But," Baker continued, his voice tinged by hope, "I think it would be a mistake for a state like Massachusetts to assume that every winter is going to be last winter."

Joshua Miller can be reached
at joshua.miller@globe.com. Subscribe to his weekday e-mail update on politics at bostonglobe.com/politicalhappyhour.