Dwindling federal funds for disasters won't affect individual assistance to Minot flood victims or progress on temporary housing units, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
With disasters in 48 states, including a tornado in Missouri, flood in Minot, hurricane on the East Coast and wildfires in Texas, FEMA's Disaster Relief Fund has dipped below $1 billion, triggering a freeze in certain types of disaster assistance.
"The disaster fund has lowered sufficiently that they are placing significant priorities on where the money is going," said John Ashton, FEMA spokesman in Bismarck. "What's not impacted by this is individual assistance. All individual assistance is moving forward. No individual or family or household will be affected by immediate-needs funding."
Individual assistance includes the construction and operation of the FEMA housing projects in Minot and Burlington. Ashton said FEMA is not concerned at this point about having the money to meet all the individual assistance needs nationwide.
A low balance in the disaster fund has occurred five times since 2003, including last year. The result often is a delay in local governments getting reimbursed for permanent infrastructure projects.
The City of Minot has thousands of dollars in flood-related projects for which it is now awaiting reimbursement, said Cindy Hemphill, city finance director. The projects include repairs to streets, sewer systems, water wells and recreational facilities.
So far, the city has been able to manage its cash flow to cover the bills, but if the delay is long and cash becomes short, the city may have to take out a loan or seek other funding alternatives, Hemphill said.
The Minot Park District has requested FEMA reimbursement for cleanup expenses, and there should be no hold up on those payments. FEMA continues to pay on certain types of public assistance, such as debris removal and emergency measures that include policing and emergency medical workers.
Shortly, though, the park district will be looking to rebuild and bid projects. If FEMA still doesn't have adequate funds in a month or two, the park district could be affected, said Ron Merritt, park director.
The park board then would have to decide which projects should proceed with existing or borrowed cash and which should wait. Because FEMA pays after a project is complete rather than upfront, the park board expects to have to borrow money anyway to cover expenses until reimbursements come in, Merritt said.
Local governments can continue to work through their states and with FEMA to advance the paperwork and get approved for funding, although no funding for permanent projects will be available without an additional appropriation by Congress.
Ashton added that any delays in funding will occur across the board.
"There's no singling out of Minot in any way or singling out of North Dakota. This affects everybody across the country equally," he said.
Sens. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., initiated a letter signed by a bipartisan group of senators that asks leaders of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee to provide additional disaster relief funding. The letter asks for supplemental appropriations for disaster recovery programs in the 2012 appropriations bills.
Conrad and Hoeven suggested the Appropriations leaders look to the Community Development Block Grant program to provide funding for disaster recovery. CDBG funding was instrumental in helping Grand Forks recover from the flood in 1997.