Money may not flow to individual flood victims

The bottom line for individual flood survivors is simple and bleak: do not expect much government financial help.

“The disaster business for individuals is really tough,” said Director Kris Eide of the Minnesota Homeland Security and Emergency Management office.

Most federal money goes to state and local governments to pay for replacing or fixing public infrastructure, such as roads. The federal Small Business Administration provides some low-interest loans for businesses and individuals, if a federal disaster is declared, but finding financial help to rebuild from a flood is difficult.

“If I was a disaster survivor of any kind, I would call anywhere I could,” Eide said.

State, local and federal officials should have enough information in the next few days to ask President Barack Obama to declare a disaster in Minnesota. The disaster declaration would be for northeastern Minnesota, as well as Goodhue, Dakota and Rice counties in the southeast, which also have experienced flooding and storm damage.

The $7.2 million damage requirement to get federal aid appears to be easily topped as Duluth Mayor Don Ness estimates more than $100 million damage in his area.

If Obama declares an emergency, it opens the door to grants to help rebuild roads, sewer and water systems and other government facilities. Individuals, however, often will have to find their own aid although disaster centers will be set up to help.

Eide said an individuals’ first stop should be their insurance agency. If the flood causes sewer backups, that could be covered under some policies.

Just 111 flood insurance policies have been sold in Duluth, Eide said. “Who would think when you live on a hill you need flood insurance?”

If insurance does not help, Eide suggested the next telephone call should be to 211, a United Way-operated service throughout Minnesota and in Douglas, Pierce, Polk and St. Croix counties in Wisconsin. The 211 operators should be able to guide a flood victim to any available help, Eide added.

Local agencies, the Minnesota Housing Finance Authority and other government service may have help available.

Within days, disaster centers will be established in areas most affected, Eide said. That will give people a chance to talk face-to-face with government officials who can help direct victims to agencies that could help.

“I don’t want people to feel like they are being forgotten,” Eide said, but she also is careful not to over-promise. “You never are going to be made whole again.”

If a federal disaster declaration is approved, the major federal program for individuals likely would be a Small Business Administration low-interest loan. If people do not qualify for that, a family might be in line for a $31,000 grant, but Eide said that is not much if a house is destroyed.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency could provide trailer homes or other aid to get people housing, Eide said.

Federal aid also could be available to workers who lose jobs because of floods.

Eide said people should start making calls now to find out what aid options are available.

First, however, Eide said people should take photographs and make a written inventory of their loses. Everything should be photographed, she said, before any repairs or removals occur so there is proof of damage for any program, whether it be private insurance or from the government.

Republican legislative leaders and Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorrel plan to visit northeastern Minnesota local government officials Wednesday, which is bound to intensify discussion about whether a special state legislative session is needed.

Senate Republican spokesman Steve Sviggum said most special sessions deal with providing money to match federal funds, but the Legislature has helped individual disaster victims with tax breaks and buying flood-prone homes.

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