Dayton appeals disaster aid rejection

Minnesota has appealed a federal government decision not to provide financial aid for individuals recovering from June storms as legislators begin preparing for a special session to deal with recent storm costs.

Gov. Mark Dayton wrote a letter Wednesday to the Federal Emergency Management Agency saying he “strongly” disagrees with the department’s July 19 decision to reject individual aid because home damages were not serious enough.

“The deluge of rain, followed by severe flooding, was one of the worst natural disasters in Minnesota’s history,” Dayton wrote about damage in northeastern Minnesota.

While the governor admitted the number of homes destroyed or sustaining heavy damage may have been lower than in similar disasters, he reminded FEMA that there is no federal minimum threshold for recommending individual assistance.

More than 1,700 homes were damaged by the storm, Dayton wrote. “This is a tremendous amount of damage, concentrated in a single region of the state.”

Most of the damage was not insured, the governor said, because there was no expectation that places hit by flooding like Duluth would be in danager.

Also, he said, many northeast Minnesotans affected by the flood are poor.

“The requirements for individual assistance for this disaster are simply beyond our capability,” Dayton wrote.

The state generally does not provide assistance to homeowners and businesses, although there is talk that could be requested during a special legislative session later this month to deal with disaster relief.

Minnesota Sen. Joe Gimse will lead Senate efforts to develop that disaster-relief bill, probably starting with a meeting next week.

As Senate Transportation Committee chairman and a member of the public works funding committee, Senate leaders say the Willmar Republican’s experience fits with the disaster’s needs.

Senate GOP spokesman Steve Sviggum said a meeting of legislators and staff from the governor’s office to deal with the issue tentatively is set for Tuesday afternoon.

Sviggum said several senators and representatives will meet in what is expected to be a public meeting as drafting a bill begins. Lawmakers from both parties, especially those in areas where damage occurred, will be involved, he said.

Kandiyohi County, where Gimse lives, is one of 13 counties the federal government declared disaster areas after floods and other storm damage occurred in June. Much of the damage came in northeastern Minnesota, including Duluth, where a preliminary estimate put the cost at $108 million.

Local, state and federal officials are working on a final damage report.

A bill to fund the state’s share of disaster relief is expected to pass during a one-day special legislative session late this month. Federal funds cover 75 percent of local government and state costs to repair public infrastructure; the bill would provide the remaining 25 percent.

There also is discussion about providing aid in areas that sustained wind damage last month

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