The Legislature is coming to town Monday, ostensibly to draw new Legislative district lines, but more urgently to fix some of the state’s problems that cannot wait until the regular Legislative session in 2013. One of them is flood relief. Probably the most important one.
For the record: I was not personally affected by the flood, except that I did not get to do any fishing last summer, which was a big disappointment. But I have friends who lost their homes, who are still not living in their homes, who are pondering what to do with what is left of their homes. I hope the Legislature decides to help them.
I’ve been to Minot and seen the devastation. Block after block of abandoned homes that had water to their rooflines last summer and will never be livable again. I’ve floated on the Missouri at Bismarck and seen homes ready to fall into the water, and homes ready for the wrecking ball. The devastation in Minot is more widespread, but the destruction in Bismarck is also very real. The major difference is, the people in Minot had no flood insurance.
And so, there are young families with hundred thousand dollar mortgages, on which they are still making payments, whose homes will never be inhabited again. There are seniors like me, on fixed incomes, with no mortgage, but also no budget for the rent they are paying now for temporary housing or the house payments they will have to make if they rebuild somewhere else. The situation in Minot is critical. There’s no place for a thousand or more families to live. Soon, they will start moving out, never to return. Seniors will move to Fargo to live with the kids. Young families will seek jobs elsewhere—there’s plenty of work in North Dakota right now, in towns with houses and apartment to live in. Minot’s population could take a big hit. There is hurt in Minot, very real hurt. And the Legislature can help. It can’t make these people whole, but it can offer hope. Here’s what I suggest.
I suggest the state of North Dakota start writing checks. I suggest the Legislature appropriate money to do that. Checks should be written to anyone with at least $5,000 in documented damage. I suppose the figure could be lower than that, but I’m thinking that people with less than $5,000 damage will get reimbursed by FEMA or can scrape up the cash to deal with that. And I’m trying to keep the paperwork down, so that we don’t have tens of thousands of small claims submitted. We want to help those with real problems. Those who lost their homes.
So I suggest that anyone with a $5,000 claim bring that claim to a state office, and they get a check. There needs to be an upper limit too, so I’d suggest $10,000. If you lost your house, bring some evidence and get a $10,000 check. Never mind about flood insurance, or FEMA, or anything else. If you had damages over $10,000, or you lost your house, you get $10,000. To help you get back on your feet again.
Ten thousand dollars will pay rent on an apartment for eight or ten months, at today’s rates. Or help make a down payment on a new home. But more, it will give a psychological boost to those suffering devastation, show them that the state cares about its residents.
And we can afford it. If 5,000 families submit the maximum claim of $10,000, that’s $50 million. That’s probably 5 per cent of what the state has in the bank right now.
Okay, now, I’m going to get a little bit political here. North Dakota is a Republican state right now. Republicans run state government. They are the party screaming about cutting federal government spending. And yet every response I’ve seen from every Republican is to put the flood cost burden on the federal government. At a time when the federal government is broke and North Dakota is rich. What hypocrisy!
It’s time for North Dakota Republicans to put their money where their mouth is. Step up and pay the bills. The Legislature is full of Republicans. Every single legislator from Bismarck and Minot is a Republican. They need to get the job done, or be thrown out of office next year.
Oh, and let’s not hear any whining from the east about this. The state has helped plenty with flooding in the east. We’re raising plenty of money out west here, and suffering the impact that goes with that.
If my suggestion—a $10,000 check, no questions asked, for everyone who lost their home, or is facing repair bills bigger than that—is not the right one, let’s see a better one. But let’s at least see something significant to help these people start putting their lives back together. This is the week the Legislature can do it. They better not go home without acting.