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Feds won’t reverse denial of Baltimore riot disaster aid

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has refused to reverse its denial of disaster aid to help Maryland and Baltimore recover millions of dollars in costs stemming from rioting in the city in April, Gov. Larry Hogan’s office said Thursday.

FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate said in a letter to the Republican governor Wednesday that after thoroughly reviewing Hogan’s appeal, the agency had reaffirmed its June 12 finding that a major disaster declaration “is not appropriate for this event.”

The decision drew an angry response from the governor’s office.

“Gov. Hogan is disgusted and outraged by FEMA’s decision, especially in light of the attention that the Obama administration paid to the city and state’s response to the riots,” spokesman Matt Clark said.

President Barack Obama pledged in April that the federal government would provide assistance as needed to respond to the rioting that broke out after the funeral of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury in police custody.

Maryland’s request included a $19.4 million estimate for emergency protective measures, including police overtime, National Guard activation, and damage to public buildings and equipment. A presidential disaster declaration would have allowed agencies to recover 75 percent of eligible costs.

Hogan’s appeal cited a presidential disaster declaration after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles following the acquittal of officers in the Rodney King beating. That was the only example of a presidential declaration for civil unrest found in a 2004 Harvard University study covering the period 1989 to 1999. Ninety-nine percent of the 570 declarations analyzed were for extreme weather, including fires.

Even the devastating Detroit race riots in the summer of 1967 failed to produce a presidential disaster declaration. The administration of President Lyndon Johnson determined that much of Detroit’s needs could be met through other means, including a Small Business Administration disaster declaration, which Maryland has also received. The SBA program offers low-interest loans to repair damage to businesses, nonprofit organizations, homeowners and renters.

More than 400 Baltimore businesses have reported riot damage, according to the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corporation, which is managing a privately funded recovery loan and grant program.

Between 1991 and 2011, presidents approved more than 85 percent of governors’ disaster requests, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Charitable Trusts.