The demand for disaster emergency assistance funds this spring could be great, with some communities around the state already experiencing flooding and damage.
Looking to backfill the state’s disaster assistance contingency account and make it solvent again, the House passed HF682/SF307* 127-0 Thursday. Passed 67-0 by the Senate March 21, it now heads to the Gov. Tim Walz’s desk.
“In December of last year, public safety sent a memo to House and Senate leadership that the account was almost exhausted,” Pelowski said. Explaining this begins a two-step process, he anticipates bringing forward another bill this session to appropriate $20 million into the account for the 2020-21 biennium.
The account was created in 2014 to provide immediate disaster response funding without further legislative action. Prior to its creation, the Legislature would need to convene every time a disaster was declared, often in a special session, to appropriate money toward response efforts. Pelowski said that process proved to be inefficient and delayed help to affected communities.
Typically, $10 million is approved on an annual basis for the upcoming fiscal year. However, the 2019 funding never materialized, as it was included the vetoed 2018 supplemental budget bill.
The approved funding would be used to backfill a deficit, which has been earmarked for disasters from the past year. The remaining balance would cover events that occur between now and the end of this fiscal year, June 30. Any unused funds would be rolled over into the next fiscal year.
Rep. Tony Jurgens (R-Cottage Grove) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have increased the appropriation to $23 million in Fiscal Year 2019, plus up to $3 million to cover an October 2018 storm that hit St. Louis County. Another $20 million would be appropriated in Fiscal Year 2020.
If the account runs out of funds, it’s as if it doesn’t exist at all, and they’ll need to reconvene for a special session like in the past, Jurgens explained.
“We don’t know what disasters might occur. Do we really want to take a chance that these funds are fully depleted before we even get to the tornado season?”
Given plans to bring forward more legislation this session that will further fund the account, Pelowski opposed the amendment.