$80 million for disaster victims - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

By Fanna Haile-Selassie

$80 million for disaster victims


St. Paul, MN (KTTC-DT) --

It was deja vu at the state Capitol today as lawmakers gathered for a special session to help recent disaster victims. They pledged $80 million in aid.

It was just 3 years ago these lawmakers did the same thing for flood victims in the Rushford and Stockton area, but this time legislators are dealing with an aid package about half the size as the one for Rushford. But the passionate pleas for aid on the House floor were just as emotional as ever.

"Instead of celebrating their homecoming, they were sandbagging. Instead of celebrating at that dance on Saturday night, they were helping their neighbors clean out their basements," exclaims Owatonna representative Kory Kath.

Kath reminded lawmakers during this special session to just look up at the faces of those affected by the recent floods. As the author of the aid bill, he asked both parties to come together in the heat of campaign season to pass $80 million of help to ease the hurt.

"We're here to do what's right for the Minnesotans. The campaign will get back to itself once we get done with the work here," says Republican Randy Demmer.

Of the $73 million directed to flood damage, about $12.4 million will go toward individual assistance. A number that some homeowners worry if it's high enough, especially since FEMA denied individual assistance.

"I mean it's really great that they want to give the cities all this money and whatnot, but if I don't have any residents to rebuild, there's no reason to rebuild Hammond. So, it's important what happens here today. It's going to make the future of Hammond," explains Judy Radke, Hammond's mayor.

"We'll put together this bill based on preliminary estimates that are coming from the communities. And then we can always come back in the next session and add to it if we need to," says Democrat Andy Welti.

The bill will allow low-interest loans for those who qualify. For those who don't, the Quickstart program will give up to $30,000 in forgivable grants. There are is also help for businesses, farms, and buyout options for those who want to leave their property.

"We're hoping to do as much as we can for as many people as we can. Hopefully the process will work well, so people get the aid they really need," says Demmer.

And hopefully, answers.

"Today we'll know the next steps. So that will be a relief to them and helpful," exclaims Al Christenson, mayoral candidate for Zumbro Falls.

Governor Tim Pawlenty signed the $80-million aid bill within an hour after both chambers passed it.

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