Delegation, Governor Call on Napolitano, Fugate To Make IA Available To All Flood-Impacted Individuals

WASHINGTON –Senators John Hoeven and Kent Conrad, Congressman Rick Berg and Governor Jack Dalrymple today sent a letter to U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate calling on the officials to provide a quick and fair review to North Dakota’s request for FEMA’s Individual Assistance (IA). 

That means making eligibility decisions based on conditions on the ground rather than on just a county-by-county basis, which often provides an inaccurate representation and produces an inequitable outcome, they said. The delegation and governor also asked for a follow-up call pursuant to their Friday call with the secretary and administrator to update them on the ongoing situation across the state. 

After FEMA denied the governor’s request for IA in 22 counties and two Indian Reservations, the congressional delegation and governor immediately called on Napolitano and Fugate last Friday to reverse the initial decision and approve all counties requested. Subsequently, FEMA announced it had approved IA for only Ward and Burleigh counties, but not adjacent counties, like Morton, Renville, and McHenry, or for Ramsey and Nelson counties, where residents of the Devils Lake Basin have been hard hit by this year’s record flooding. 

The delegation and governor wrote: 

          “Over the course of the ongoing flooding disaster in North Dakota, it has become apparent that FEMA departed from its previous policy in terms of approving the Individual Assistance (IA) program.  In response to North Dakota’s 2009 flood disaster, FEMA awarded IA for 41 counties and three Indian Reservations.  Even though some of these counties had only a handful of homes qualifying for IA, FEMA approved counties based on the statewide impact, without regard to each county satisfying a minimum threshold of damages.  Although we were never informed of a change in policy, we now understand that FEMA apparently intends to make IA determinations based on a threshold amount of damages in each county. 

          “Using a county-by-county approval process will almost certainly result in disparate treatment of people who have virtually identical flood damages caused by the same river in the same flood event on the sole basis of which bank of the river the people live on.  As it now stands, a resident of Morton County living on the west side of the Missouri River does not qualify for IA, whereas a resident of Burleigh County, on the east side of the same river, does qualify.  The same ongoing flood event has damaged and destroyed homes on both sides of the river.  FEMA regulations note: “There is no set threshold for recommending Individual Assistance” 44 CFR § 206.48(b)(6).  As such, FEMA ought to treat people affected by the same flood event in the same way.  

          “North Dakota has clusters of counties affected by three distinct flood events.  There is one cluster of counties along the Souris (Mouse) River that is fighting the same record-setting flood event, but only Ward County has been granted IA.  The crest in Ward County exceeded the previous all-time record by more than three feet and forced more than 11,000 people from their inundated homes.  A second cluster of counties along the Missouri River is also fighting historic flood waters, and, again, only Burleigh County has been granted IA while homes in several counties have been damaged or destroyed by the same flood, including some directly across the river from homes in Burleigh County that are eligible for IA.  Water releases from Garrison Dam have doubled previous records and forced more than 900 residents in Burleigh and Morton County to evacuate. Finally, a third cluster of counties in the Devils Lake basin is undergoing a distinct flood disaster that has raised the lake more than two more feet, inundating 24,000 acres, flooding many homes, and cutting off all access to numerous others.” 

The delegation and governor also asked for a 60-day extension on the state’s appeal to allow adequate time to assess fully the impacts created by unprecedented flooding. 

FEMA’s Individual Assistance program can provide financial help to pay for temporary housing, repairs to homes, and funding toward replacement of a home that has been destroyed. It also includes “Other Needs Assistance,” which may cover medical, transportation, moving and storage, and other expenses associated with personal loss due to flooding.  People who have lost their jobs or are unable to reach their place of work may also be eligible for assistance.