Lawmaker says flood money is too slow in comingby Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — The August flooding in southeastern Minnesota damaged thousands of homes and caused millions of dollars in damage. Lawmakers responded quickly, passing a $157 million flood relief bill during a special session in September.
But three months later, Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes, DFL-Winona, said many residents of the flood-damaged counties are still waiting for the state help to arrive.
"If you would have asked me if I thought snow would be flying and Christmas trees would be up before my communities had aid from the state, I would have never believed it," she said Friday.
Ropes said businesses and farmers have not yet received any state money and most of the housing money authorized for families and individuals remains in a state bank account.
State aid has traditionally moved slowly to flood-damaged communities. But Ropes said the Legislature waived much of the red tape for state agencies to speed up the process. She claims some state departments have since created new obstacles.
In a letter to Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Ropes asked for his intervention.
"Well, I would ask him to talk to his commissioners and exert whatever influence he has to get them to look at what roadblocks have been set up arbitrarily by his departments to keep flood relief from the people," she said.
Three of Pawlenty's commissioners strongly disputed Ropes's allegations. Dan McElroy of the Department of Employment and Economic Development said this is the fastest response to a natural disaster in Minnesota history.
Of the $35 million appropriated for business, McElroy says $32 million has already been committed to cities and counties. And he says $7 million of that amount has been dispersed.
"We disperse as soon as we get a request from a city economic development authority or a county economic development authority," he said. "We received one yesterday from Winona County for $1.36 million. Their check will go out on the 28th of December."
State money is also in the pipeline to help homeowners fill the gaps not covered by federal disaster aid. Minnesota Housing Commissioner Tim Marx said half of the state money allocated for housing has been committed or dispersed. Marx said the application deadline for assistance is Jan. 14.
"There is no bureaucratic delay," he said. "There is no lack of proper interpretation of the statute. The system is working and it's working at an increasing pace to address the recovery."
State officials are still sitting on the $3.7 million designated for farmers, but that is by design. Agriculture Commissioner Gene Hugoson said legislators knew his agency planned to wait until after the harvest season to begin taking applications from farmers. He said that deadline was recently extended until January.
- All Things Considered, 12/21/2007, 5:20 p.m.