Disaster relief bill passed


An $80 million disaster relief package is on its way to Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s desk following the conclusion of a brief special session of the Legislature. 

The House voted 131-0 to pass HF1, which would provide aid to communities damaged by severe flooding in late September as well as a series of storms in July. The Senate passed it 66-0 shortly thereafter. Pawlenty is expected to sign it into law.

The legislation provides matching dollars for federal assistance, and fills in gaps where federal disaster relief falls short — particularly in helping individual homeowners, who were left out of the official disaster declaration.

Rep. Kory Kath (DFL-Owatonna), who sponsors the legislation with Sen. Ann Lynch (DFL-Rochester), said the bill would give new hope to those devastated by the recent floods that affected residents in 21 southern Minnesota counties.

“This is what we do. We look out for Minnesotans. We do what’s right. And we make sure that in times of crisis we react in a way that really reflects our Minnesota values,” Kath said.

The bill provides funds to repair public infrastructure like roads and wastewater facilities, provide assistance to small businesses and farmers, aid individual homeowners in repairing or rebuilding residences and finance flood mitigation projects. A spreadsheet detailing spending provisions in the bill can be found here.

During a pair of committee hearings earlier in the day, local officials described widespread damages that threaten some rural communities’ way of life.

“The opportunity and the help that you’ll provide for us could mean the difference between us staying viable — and not — in the future,” said Al Christenson, city councilman and incoming mayor of Zumbro Falls, which was among those cities damaged.

The legislation also addresses damages caused by severe weather in July, which prompted a separate disaster declaration from the federal government.

Funding for the bill comes from primarily three sources: the state’s General Fund ($38.4 million); bonding ($36.8 million); and the Trunk Highway Fund ($5 million).

The funding is made possible largely due to a recent extension of increased federal Medical Assistance match funding, which is also addressed in the bill. The increased federal spending will allow Minnesota to reduce its health and human services program spending, which will leave the state with a positive cash balance for the biennium.