LegitSlater: Despite Prosperity, ND Shamelessly Asks For Fed Funding It Does Not Really Need

As I was perusing the online dailies today, I came across something pretty interesting which I felt called for a little digging into. Glad I did.

Apparently, with all the excitement happening in this state I missed that we had a natural disaster at the end of June of such a magnitude that the President himself saw fit to approve federal funding relief from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Now, I may be getting older every day, but my memory is pretty good. I simply could not recall any stories of cities going underwater like what happened in Minot (and almost in Bismarck and Mandan) in 2011. I am pretty sure I would have remembered that if it had happened.

Apparently, some storms did cause a little flooding which did about $1 Million in damages. Seems like a lot, but it appeared to be spread out over 9 counties and an Indian Reservation:

Federal funding also is available to state, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by the severe storms and flooding in the counties of Benson, Bottineau, Divide, Eddy, McHenry, Mountrail, Pierce, Renville, and Ward and the Standing Rock Indian Reservation

$1 Million in damages over a pretty wide area, and with all our prosperity we can’t find a way to cover that ourselves between the state, local, and tribal government entities affected.

Really?

In doing a bit more research, I found that if we in North Dakota are to consider ourselves honest brokers, we should have never asked for the funding to begin with based on FEMA guidelines:

A governor may determine, after consulting with local government officials, that the recovery appears to be beyond the combined resources of both the state and local governments and that federal assistance may be needed. In requesting supplemental Federal assistance under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 5121-5206 (Stafford Act), the Governor must certify that the severity and magnitude of the disaster exceed state and local capabilities; certify that Federal assistance is necessary to supplement the efforts and available resources of the state and local governments, disaster relief organizations, and compensation by insurance for disaster related losses; confirm execution of the state’s emergency plan; and certify adherence to cost sharing requirements.

(emphasis mine)

It also looks like FEMA should never have recommended approval for this funding by the President, if they were following their own guidelines:

… In evaluating a Governor’s request for a major disaster declaration, a number of primary factors, along with other relevant information, are considered in developing a recommendation to the President for supplemental disaster assistance.  Primary factors considered include (Some; not all are listed for brevity sake):

  • Dispersion or concentration of damage;
  • Level of insurance coverage in place for homeowners and public facilities;
  • Available assistance from other sources (Federal, State, local, voluntary organizations);
  • State and local resource commitments from previous, undeclared events

After reviewing this information, I could not shake a simple question — How can we in North Dakota, especially the leadership, brag about our economic prosperity and large surpluses on one hand; but then turn around and say a $1 Million disaster exceeds the “combined resources” of the state and local subdivisions affected? How can FEMA not see, with all our bragging, that we don’t have “available assistance from other (i.e. our own) resources”?

Probably because it is federal money, so therefore it is free right? We have no shame in asking for it, and it looks like FEMA (for their own reasons, perhaps tied to job and funding justification) has no shame in approving it; despite what appears to be pretty clear congressional intent that if you have the money in your bank account you need to use that first.

Now, I understand that there is a place for federal funds for disaster relief, and support the overall concept. Government at all levels has a responsibility to keep people safe and assist with rebuilding after a disaster happens. The 2011 flood in Minot is a great example. But asking for a handout seemingly every time it rains is just embarrassing. One million dollars may not seem like much, but when you multiply this practice across 49 other states and across several different government programs from a multitude of federal agencies, it is no wonder why we have a debt problem. And the old “well if we don’t spend it someone else will” argument is not justification.

We simply can’t demand that Washington gets their spending under control if we are too willing to turn to them at every opportunity for a taste of “free” federal money — especially when we really don’t need it. As North Dakotans, we take pride in supposedly taking care of ourselves and each other, and for being responsible. We brag about that to others just as we brag about our economic prosperity. That pride needs to govern our actions when a little federal money is being waved under our nose too. Shame on us for even asking for it.

 

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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