Today marked the start of the signup period for Minot flood victims to receive federal grants to help in rebuilding.
The city is planning to use five million dollars from the latest batch of Community Development Block Grant funds to make awards to homeowners who repaired or rebuilt within one year of the flood.
But there are questions still swirling around the plan - including whether or not most people will qualify for the money.
Jim Olson reports.
The plan devised by the City of Minot seems simple - provide up to ten thousand dollars to homeowners in the city who got to work and repaired or rebuilt their flood damaged homes within one year of the June, 2011 flood. But it is facing some questions right now.
For example, will the city get final permission from the Department of Housing and Urban Development for the plan? The answer to that is on hold due to the current partial shutdown of the federal government.
(Cindy Hemphill, Minot City Finance Director) "The city is in limbo. We were just one day off when the government shut down that they would have been obligated to approve our action plan. We can't move forward with appropriating or spending any of those funds until the federal government comes back and our plan is approved."
More questions? What will the timing be for receiving and distributing the funds?
And who will qualify to receive a CDBG grant?
That last question could prove to be a big one because of the limitations imposed by the federal government.
The Stafford Act says: "no person shall receive assistance for any part of such loss as to which he has received financial assistance under any other program or from insurance or any other source." That's the "duplication of benefits" phrase we've heard in relation to flood assistance.
City officials have been told that the financial assistance that disqualifies a person for a grant includes low-interest loans awarded to flood victims by the federal and state governments.
And if that limitation holds up, city finance director Cindy Hemphill says it could severely limit who qualifies for these new grant funds.
(Cindy Hemphill, Minot City Finance Director) "We don't know whether people have taken personal loans or if they've had to rely 100% on their FEMA funds and SBA loans. If it's 100% FEMA funds and SBA loans then that could potentially be a full duplication of funds and they would not be entitled to any of this reimbursement money."
Here's an example: Say my house sustained $100,000 in damage from the flood. FEMA paid me $30,000 in a grant, and the Small Business Administration awarded me a loan for $70,000. That means if I spent $100,000 in repairing my home, I would not qualify for any of the new grant money since all of my loss was offset by what is considered to be financial assistance - even though I have to repay the $70,000 loan. I would have had a $70,000 loss from the flood but would not be able to get any of the federal grant money now being offered. The only way I'd qualify for any of the grant money is if I spent my own money to make improvements beyond the $100,000 loss. Hemphill says if the applications to the city show many people are in that predicament, the city may be able to ask the federal government to change its restrictions on loans counting against a flood victim's balance sheet.
(Cindy Hemphill, Minot City Finance Director) "We have to demonstrate to them that this is the plan and you've made funds available for the reimbursement program but this is the situation in Minot, North Dakota and this is why we need your help to get a waiver or exception or whatever is necessary so we can help individuals harmed by the flood."
And there's another major question - will the city be able to find enough low-to-moderate income homeowners to qualify for the grants? The city is required by HUD to award 51% of the funds to people in the low to moderate income bracket.
(Cindy Hemphill, Minot City Finance Director) "There's a lot of challenges with this program. It sounds great, there's opportunity for reimbursement but we have to get through the challenges and the hurdles."
Even with the questions, Hemphill urges all Minot residents who sustained flood damage to their primary residence, and who made repairs within one year, to make application as soon as possible - whether they think they might qualify for funds or not. That way, the city may be able to go to the federal government and seek changes in the requirements. The website to register is: MinotReimb.com.