Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account (3/15/2019)

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By Rep. Tony Jurgens, 3/15/2019

Hello from St. Paul,

Anyone that ever had a child in the Scouting program remembers the motto: be prepared. It should be the motto for the state legislature as well.

Unless you’ve been hibernating, you understand we received record-setting snowfall for the month of February. Very soon, that snow is going to turn to water – and lots of it.

You can’t turn on the news these days without hearing reports of future flooding concerns, as the weather experts are predicting major flooding throughout Minnesota in the coming weeks. With the St. Croix River and the Mississippi River bordering our communities, we are definitely going to notice the rising waters. In fact the directors of public works in both Hastings and Cottage Grove say they expect the highest waters to hit within the next two weeks.

Days ago, flood preparations began. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has already filled 20,000 sandbags at the lock and dam in Hastings, just in case they’re needed. Much like a good Scout – the Corps is prepared.

Now I want to make the State of Minnesota is prepared.

Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account – created to allocate funds to communities impacted by natural disasters, sits empty. To rectify this problem, I am authoring legislation that will replenish this needed funding so cities damaged by floodwaters will be able to immediately begin recovery efforts.

The account is now in the red after Minnesota responded with $11 million in relief to flooding events in Brainerd and Duluth last year – a year where significant spring flooding was not projected. Governor Walz and other lawmakers have proposed putting $10 million into the account for 2019, but that amount would be woefully inadequate based on last year’s use and this year’s flood predictions. Let’s also not forget this account is used to help the state pay for damage caused by other natural disasters as well, such as tornadoes, straight line winds, drought, and torrential rainfall. This is why I believe a significant funding infusion is critical.

My bill would transfer $20 million in Fiscal Year 2019 and another $20 million in Fiscal Year 2020 to this account from our $1 billion General Fund surplus. It’s not unusual for this account to contain more than $10 million. Since its creation in Fiscal Year 2014, the account held $17.466 million in Fiscal Year 2015 and $20.4 million in Fiscal Year 2016.

Putting sufficient, stable funding in this account is imperative for disaster response preparedness, otherwise lawmakers will continue rushing to appropriate money during session by declaring urgencies.

It’s worth noting that this account was created to allow state money to be allocated for disaster relief without calling the state legislature into a special session to appropriate funds. This was a sound move. That said, our non-partisan House research staff points out that money in this account is available to our governor 365 days a year should an emergency be declared, regardless if lawmakers are in session. This was also wise.

As many who have followed politics in this state over the years already know, most issues of significance aren’t solved at the State Capitol until the final days of session. We don’t want a serious disaster event competing with other end-of-session needs, and we don’t want our flood victims to potentially become an unintended pawn in end-of-session budget negotiations.

Sure, we could wait for the flooding to hit over the next few weeks, assess the damage and come up with a total, hold committee hearings in the House and Senate, listen as lawmakers grandstand during debate, take floor votes, and eventually send a bill to Governor Walz to sign – if all of that can happen before session ends.

Or we could pass a bill that puts disaster relief money into Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account, and allows Governor Walz to allocate the amount needed after he declares an emergency. By ensuring the account has funds available, the state and federal governments could immediately begin engaging with local communities around the state without having to wait on legislative action.

To me, it’s just common sense to properly fund this account now. We want the State of Minnesota to appropriately respond to communities struggling with flood waters – and any other natural disaster – whether lawmakers are in session or adjourned. Let’s be prepared.

LOCAL VISITORS

Tommy, Jonathan, and Grace Braucks of Hastings traveled to St. Paul today to discuss education choice for kids initiatives with me – and Governor Walz.

John Strohfus, joined by his daughter Addison, was in St. Paul to testify before the Minnesota House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law division in support of a bill I’m co-authoring that allows Minnesota hemp growers to sell Minnesota grown hemp to medical cannabis program manufacturers. I brought them onto the House floor following the hearing.

Farmer’s Insurance agents Katy Lindberg from Hastings and Anne Doerrer from Shoreview were here for Insurance Day at the Capitol.

Hailey, Julie, Joe, and LaRae from Cottage Grove were part of this group advocating to protect Legacy Funding for the Arts.

Nininger Township dairy farmers John and Janet Bremer and Alan Overland from southern Minnesota were in for Dairy Day at the Capitol.

Pastor Greg Snow from St. John’s Lutheran Church in Chaska was Chaplain of the Day in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Greg and I went to high school together in Watertown, SD. He did a great job and I was glad to reconnect with him after so many years.

Sharon, Beth, and Saciido with Community Mediation & Restorative Services stopped by. Their mediation service resolves issues and prevents costly evictions which is good for both landlords and tenants.

Bill and Andrea from Ally Supportive Services, LLC were in this week advocating for the homeless. In January I went out with Amber from Ally as part of homeless outreach in Dakota County. It was nice to get an update from Bill and Andrea on some of the people I met that night.

Surrogacy advocates including Elizabeth and Traci from Hastings were in this week with Resolve. Surrogacy helps couples who are unable to have children start families, and we need structure to protect the women and children.

Have a good weekend,
Tony

Representative Tony Jurgens
351 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155
651-296-3135
E-mail: rep.tony.jurgens@house.mn

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