Flood relief package passed; assistance available immediately

The Minnesota legislature met for a one-day special session Aug. 24 to approve a broad disaster relief bill that includes immediate assistance for residents, businesses and infrastructure impacted by the June floods. The package totals $167.5 million for the repair and replacement of public infrastructure, individual assistance, and tax relief. The aid package mostly is funded through a slight decrease in the state’s rainy day budget account and through bond sales.

Originally, Governor Mark Dayton proposed a $187 million package but after reassessing state agency needs and negotiating with legislative leaders, the total was slightly reduced. The final agreement includes the state-required 25 percent match to receive federal financial assistance that will come from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The money included in this bill will help repair roads and bridges, help business recover, and restore damaged state parks and other monuments. But one of the most important pieces of the bill is individual assistance – relief for home- and business owners who do not have insurance or other resources to effectively restore damaged property. That relief is available immediately and I strongly encourage those who need help to step forward. In order to be eligible for state assistance included in the bill passed last week, folks must apply for the low-interest loans to the Small Business Administration. So far, the numbers applying to the SBA are very low, which means many are not coming forward. If you or someone you know is having difficulty with the process, please contact me for help.

If an SBA loan is denied and other resources are exhausted, then residents will be able to apply for the low-interest, forgivable loans approved in the state flood bill. The Quick Start program, as it’s called, has traditionally provided average loans of $25,000 to individual homeowners with no other funding source. The low-interest loans are forgivable if a person stays in the home for 10 years, and they are intended to help bring homes back up to livable standards by paying for the replacement of furnaces, water heaters, electrical services and other basic necessities.

The disaster relief provided for case managers to be hired to help residents navigate the relief-application process, which is an invaluable resource. They will have direct knowledge of our local situation and will be able to direct victims to appropriate non-profit, faith-based, state and federal assistance that is available. Currently, Case Manager Kristi Skelton-Weisert is based at Hope Lutheran Church in Moose Lake, kristijo65@gmail.com; or you may contact Nancy Beers, director of disaster services, at nancy.beers@lssmn.org or 507-990-5307. Additional Case Managers will be hired very soon.

Another important piece of the disaster-relief bill will help Moose Lake School begin recovery efforts so the district is able to begin serving students on Sept. 4. However, we all realize there are long-term needs here, and I’m already working on solutions that will help Moose Lake and other districts around the state in the future. Minnesota has a growing number of aging school facilities – 70 years old or more – that also are located in areas with low property wealth and have been damaged by a natural disaster. The state needs a more comprehensive way to address these needs and help districts return to proper standards that can meet our children’s needs. I will be working on this issue throughout the interim and during the 2013 regular legislative session.

I’d like to thank the dozens of local residents, volunteers, and officials who came together to make the special session process run so smoothly. You helped communicate our region’s needs to state leaders, and that was invaluable in making sure our area wasn’t forgotten. And now, I am committed to making sure our residents aren’t forgotten as this process continues. As I told my colleagues on Friday, the bill we passed in special session is only a piece of the total recovery. We know from past disasters that it often takes years to completely understand and address the needs of an area. That is why I encourage those impacted by the disaster to contact me as new information is received.

If you have any questions or concerns as this process continues, please don’t hesitate to contact me at sen.tony.lourey@senate.mn; 651-296-0293; or at 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155.

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Senator Tony Lourey
Tony Lourey represents District 11, which includes portions of Carlton, Kanabec, Pine and St. Louis counties in the northeastern part of the state.

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