Disaster aid on the wayTired but relieved, Red Wing lawmaker Tim Kelly says disaster relief is on the way: Lawmakers passed a $180 million package during a special session Friday in St. Paul and the governor signed it.
By: Anne Jacobson and Don Davis, The Republican Eagle
Tired but relieved, Red Wing lawmaker Tim Kelly says disaster relief is on the way: Lawmakers passed a $180 million package during a special session Friday in St. Paul and the governor signed it.
“We’re not going to make anyone ‘whole.’ That was said over and over again, but we can fix roads and bridges,” the bill’s chief author in the Minnesota House said.
The Legislature overwhelmingly approved aid that leverages another $200 million for communities damaged by summer floods and wind storms. Those include Goodhue County — and the Cannon Falls area especially. Kelly reported county infrastructure damage at $875,000.
While that local aid is not spelled out in the bill, Kelly noted that the Minnesota Department of Transportation got $79 million — virtually everything it requested — and Goodhue County’s projects are on the list.
“We know the numbers. They will have to go through the process of requesting the dollars,” Kelly said.
Much of nearly $168 million of new funds in the bill, and $13 million already appropriated but no longer needed for various projects, would head to northeastern Minnesota. The Duluth area was hit hardest and had extensive damage after a 10-inch rainfall during 24 hours in June.
The House voted 125-3 for the measure, with the Senate following 60-7.
The day started at 9 a.m. with committee hearings. The session got under way at 2 p.m. and took less than two hours.
Ways and Means Chairwoman Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said some money will be available almost immediately, but other funds will not be spent for a couple of years.
The morning’s most emotional testimony came from Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, who said this is the first time since she became a lawmaker in 1977 that she has dealt with such a disaster in her area.
Her constituents are frustrated, she said, because those who control government funds often said, “We don’t do basements.”
She said that hurts those affected by floods because they need furnaces, water heaters and other things in those basements.
Murphy was told some state funds would be available to people with basement problems.
The lawmaker said she trusts lawmakers and state agencies will do the right things and help flood victims.
A key component of this disaster package is accountability, Kelly said. One section specifies who qualifies: The people actually affected. Another stipulates that disaster loan payments, with 50 percent “forgivable” for those in business 10 years from now, will go into a fund to cover future disaster aid. In the past, loan payments went to communities and sometimes weren’t spent on disaster relief.
“There are kind of checks and balances,” Kelly said of the relief measure. “It absolutely goes to where it’s supposed to.”
The bill, which Gov. Mark Dayton signed Friday afternoon, will provide almost $168 million in new funds, coming from both borrowing and using some from the state budget reserve.
Nearly $13 million more will be moved from funds that have been appropriated in past years, mostly for disaster relief, but not needed.
The federal government eventually will pay more than $200 million to Minnesota, but some checks may not arrive for up to six years. The disaster bill provides funds to do needed repairs now, and once federal money arrives it will be put in state bank accounts.
"I commend legislators for honoring their promise to limit this special session to disaster relief, which they passed with overwhelming bi-partisan support,” he said. “This help to Minnesotans, who have suffered terrible misfortunes, is a shining example of the spirit which makes our state so very special."