I know that the wait for flooded families has been much longer than anyone wanted. We heard from the federal government last night and then again this morning, regarding the federal disaster declaration. The waiting is over. The news on Minnesota's application for federal assistance is mixed:
First of all, the federal government DID grant the federal declaration for Wabasha, Goodhue, Winona, Olmsted, and 17 other counties. This federal declaration does include public assistance, which provides 75% of the cost for repairing the state, county, and township roads and bridges in our communities. It also pays similar costs for other public facilities, including public water and sewer damages. The remaining 25% will be paid for with the state flood relief package that we pass in special session on Monday, October 18th. So our public infrastructure will be replaced without added burdens on our county, city, or township governments.
Unfortunately, the federal declaration does not include what we were hoping that it would - individual assistance. This means that the FEMA federal grants for homeowners to repair their flooded homes will not be available to flood victims in the 29-county disaster area.
Over the past week, I have been meeting regularly at the capitol with a team of legislators, governor's staff, and agency officials to discuss and plan for the state's flood assistance in our communities. The work accomplished was two-fold: we were able to draft the state flood relief bill, which will be discussed and passed in the special session of the legislature on Monday - and we discussed at length the state's application to FEMA, and what our options would be if FEMA did not grant individual assistance. The resulting plan is, immediately upon hearing a rejection of our individual assistance application (which we heard this morning) to apply to the SBA (US Small Business Association) for a SBA disaster declaration. This application has been made to SBA, it is fully expected to be granted, and we expect to receive confirmation of acceptance by the SBA sometime next week. This SBA declaration will allow businesses and homeowners in the flooded area to apply for low interest SBA loans. While not the FEMA individual assistance that we were all hoping to obtain, it's the best other federal government help that we can obtain for individuals.
Minnesota government has a long history of helping our citizens who experience natural disaster. Many other states, like Iowa, do not. In those states, aid is generally limited to the types and levels of assistance that the federal government includes in the federal disaster declaration. Governor Pawlenty has called the special session for Monday, October 18th, at 1:00 p.m. The legislature will be meeting to consider the bill that I and several other legislators have been involved in drafting over the past week. That bill will, as I mentioned earlier, provide the 25% cost share match for the FEMA public assistance. It will also provide flood relief aid for both homeowners and business owners, above the low interest SBA loans offered by the federal government. The state assistance for homeowners that will result from Monday's special session will include the Minnesota "Quick Start" program. Although the details will be made by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency after the bill passes on Monday, I can share with you the details of the way the program worked with the 2009 floods in NW Minnesota, as the approach will be similar with this flood:
Homeowners are required to file any flood insurance claims they may have, and then apply for an SBA loan. Any gap between the amount of the total damage costs and the amount homeowners are eligible for from insurance + SBA loan is considered the 'gap.' The Quick Start program provides 10-year forgivable loans in amounts of $1,000 to $30,000 for these eligible homeowners. Borrowers are required by the government to accept the maximum loan that SBA offers them before they are deemed eligible for Quick Start.
Business owners will be eligible for Minnesota Investment fund program loans with or without interest or as forgivable loans. This program will be defined more locally, but is required to meet the requirements set out in statute at: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/statutes/?id=12A.07 Details will be available sometime after the bill is passed on Monday, hopefully within a week or two.
You may have heard on the radio or read in the newspaper that a local Disaster Recovery Center (DRC) is going to open in Mazeppa, beginning tomorrow (Friday). The recovery center is located at the Mazeppa Community Center at 121 Maple St NE, Mazeppa (this is the main street in town). The DRC will be open from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. Friday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. It is VERY IMPORTANT, if your family or business has been flooded, for you to check in at the DRC during these times. The DRC will be the single location where information about recovery efforts will be available. Singn-up for flood relief aid (both federal and state) and a variety of other information and assistance will be provided at the DRC. Please stop in as soon as possible, BEFORE the weekend is over, if you have been flooded. This DRC is for all flood victims in our region, including Wabasha, Goodhue, and Olmsted Counties.
That's all I have for now. As always, feel free to contact me if you have additional questions. I will be sending out additional information after the special session on Monday.
If you are not a flooded resident of our communities, please consider reaching out to those in need. Stop in at the disaster recovery center in Mazeppa as volunteer and contribution information will be available there. Please continue to keep our friends and neighbors in your prayers.