When we heard the forecast for an "all day soaker"Ě on August 18, few people in southeastern Minnesota would have predicted what Mother Nature had in store: Torrential rainfall that would eventually take several lives, and force hundreds more from their homes and businesses.
This storm cell didn't choose which homeowners would be devastated and which would be spared. Simply put, if you were in the flood path, you were hit hard.¬†Your income did not matter, nor did the size of your home. ¬†The flood waters did not discriminate.
Neither did lawmakers when it came to dealing with this tragedy. Once Governor Pawlenty called a special session, Republicans and Democrats worked together in a positive and productive fashion to craft a bill providing disaster relief to those who were suffering.
Much of the $157 million relief package is being sent to the flooding victims in Southeastern Minnesota. ¬†Sixteen million of that has been allocated for housing relief. ¬†
When putting together the housing provision, lawmakers wanted to ensure that all homeowners would be eligible for state flood assistance.¬†To address this problem, we wrote specific language stating that a homeowner's income should not prevent them from asking for and receiving aid.
We believed, in other words, that a flood victim is a flood victim.
Sadly, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency didn't see it that way. ¬†
Despite the language in the bill eliminating the need to do so, the MHFA decided to implement its tried-and-true housing assistance formula, which is based on income limits. Under these guidelines, a household making more than $81,120 in Winona or Wabasha counties would not have even been allowed to apply for state disaster housing assistance.
Basically, this provision meant we would discriminate against those flood victims who allegedly make too much. And because of this, half the households in our area would not have received assistance. ¬†
Recently, I contacted the governor's office and the MHFA to alert them to these oversights, and asked them to modify this policy. After a few days of discussions, they agreed to implement the housing relief the way the Legislature intended - by making all affected homeowners eligible.
All of us are in this together, regardless of party affiliation, household income, or any other criteria. A flood victim IS a flood victim, and I'm grateful all will now be treated equally. ¬†It's refreshing to see that government still can work for the people. Lawmakers from both parties worked together to create legislation that benefited all flood victims. And following a minor setback, all flooded homeowners will now receive access to the assistance they so desperately need.
State Representative Steve Drazkowski (R-Wabasha) represents Minnesota House District 28B, and is a co-author of the disaster relief proposal.