WASHINGTON — Minnesota officials will appeal last week’s decision from the Federal Emergency Management Agency that stopped federal funds from going to helping individual Minneapolis residents recover from the tornado that devastated the northern-most areas of the city in May.
Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and a team of Minnesotans met with federal disaster recovery officials at the White House on Monday to discuss the matter. He briefed Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken and Rep. Keith Ellison’s office on the discussions.
Gov. Mark Dayton applied for and received FEMA funds to repair damaged public infrastructure following the May 22 tornadoes that struck Minneapolis. But citing the large amount of volunteers in the city, FEMA rejected a further request for funds to provide assistance to individual property owners who need to rebuild after the storm.
On Monday, Rybak, along with City Council President Barb Johnson and Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Commissioner Mary Tingerthal, met with officials who outlined potential steps the city could take to receive federal aid, both from FEMA and other sources, like the Housing and Urban Development Department.
“We can’t be certain how successful we’ll be in getting [FEMA] aid, but we believe after that meeting that we have a stronger case to get individual assistance and we’ll be working hard,” Rybak said.
Earlier damage estimates didn’t fully catch the scope of the tornado’s affect on north Minneapolis residents, Rybak said. When the state reapplies for funds — which will happen “as soon as possible,” Rybak said, with a response from FEMA coming within weeks — it will use new numbers that show a greater need for assistance, especially in the housing sector.
Rybak told an anecdote of a woman and her five children who were forced by the storm to leave their damaged home and move into a studio apartment with the woman’s quadriplegic father.
“They are housed, [but] they are housed in a very poor situation,” he said. “If you take that example many times over, you recognize that the housing needs that the original assessment team does in the wake of a storm will only grow.”
Tingerthal said agencies besides just FEMA detailed their potential contributions to recovery efforts, including additional HUD funding and waivers that allow the city to use funds for whatever it needs, not just for tasks that are normally dictated by the agency.
FEMA originally estimated that the storm caused at least $16.3 million in damage to public infrastructure and hundreds of millions of dollars in damage to private property. Rybak said Monday that those damage estimates will likely be adjusted up in the new request.
None of the agencies committed funding at Monday morning’s meeting, but Rybak and his delegation said they left the meeting with a better understanding of what they need to do to get those funds.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.