Governor’s request for individual disaster aid rejectedOn Wednesday, Federal officials rejected Minnesota’s request to financially help individuals affected by last month’s floods in the northeastern part of the state. Gov. Mark Dayton said he will appeal the decision.
By: Morgan Bartlett and Jana Peterson, Pine Journal
On Friday, July 20, Governor Mark Dayton arrived in Cloquet to listen to reports of flood damage in the area due to last month’s storms. Cloquet was just one of his stops that day; he also visited Carlton and Thomson. The biggest question on everyone’s mind was regarding the potential for state and federal aid for individual homeowners and businesses.
Monetary assistance for damage to public infrastructure is coming, Dayton said, but federal aid for individuals might not happen as easily.
He was correct.
Five days later federal officials rejected Minnesota’s request to financially help individuals affected by last month’s floods in the northeastern part of the state.
“It has been determined that the damage to dwellings from this event was not of such severity and magnitude as to warrant” establishing federal programs to help individuals, Administer Craig Engate of the Federal Emergency Management Agency wrote to Dayton Wednesday.
Within a few hours of receiving the rejection letter, Dayton directed Homeland Security and Emergency Management Director Kris Eide to appeal the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) denial for individual assistance for recent floods in northeast Minnesota.
“I believe this was the wrong decision, and I am deeply disappointed. We will begin working on an appeal immediately,” Dayton said.
Earlier this month, the governor did secure a major federal disaster declaration for 13 Minnesota counties and three tribal nations following severe storms and flooding that struck areas of the state in June. The preliminary damage assessments revealed more than $108 million in costs and damages to public infrastructure in Aitkin, Carlton, Cook, Crow Wing, Dakota, Goodhue, Kandiyohi, Lake, Meeker, Pine, Rice, Sibley and St. Louis counties as well as the Fond du Lac Tribal Nation, the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe and the Grand Portage Tribal Nation.
The federal disaster declaration provided assistance to state and local government and certain private non-profit organizations for emergency work and the repair or replacement of disaster-damaged facilities. This applies within the counties in the disaster area.
City of Cloquet Director of Public Works Jim Prusak was among several officials and business leaders who reported on damages during the governor’s visit. According to Prusak, the worst public infrastructure damage was done on Reservation Road.
“Their washout was 150 feet wide and 30 feet deep, and that damage was done in about 30 minutes,” he said.
Wednesday’s denial by FEMA was for individual assistance that would have provided federal grants to individual citizens and private businesses who have suffered damages or losses not covered by insurance.
According to Eide, about 1,700 homes were affected by the flooding regionwide.
Brian Belich, Carlton County Emergency Management director, expressed disappointment at the FEMA denial but said he wasn’t necessarily surprised because county officials had been cautioned from the beginning that the benchmark for individual aid was pretty high.
“That’s where the long term recovery committee will come in,” he said. “It won’t fill the gap, but it [the committee] will become all the more important in meeting unmet needs.”
Cloquet City Administrator Brian Fritsinger was hopeful that the state would come through for residents and businesses.
“From the city’s standpoint, everyone was hoping some level of aid would come through for the individual homeowners and businesses that were impacted by the flood,” Fritsinger said, noting his disappointment with the decision by FEMA. “Hopefully the state will come through with some aid. I’d say the door isn’t fully closed until after [the special session].”
Prusak said the city is working to get FEMA assistance as well as assistance from the state level.
Still, public assistance is one story, aid for homeowners is quite another. Although a declaration for public aid has already been made by the President, claims from individual homeowners worry Prusak most of all, he said, adding that most of the insurance claims in the region have been denied.
“Those are the people I honestly don’t have an answer for and feel worst for,” he said, noting that his office received an estimated 50 calls from residents about property damage in the week following the storm. He estimated that, in all, more than 200 homes were affected in some manner.
The Legislature is expected to meet next month to approve funds for local governments’ storm work, but lawmakers usually do not appropriate funds for private citizens or businesses.
Friday’s visit was Gov. Dayton’s fourth visit to the Northland to survey and discuss the flood damage. The Governor had nothing but praise for how things were handled and how people pulled together to help each other in their hours of need.
“That’s the Minnesota way,” he smiled. “I’m proud to be a Minnesotan.”