Feb. 21, 2020, 6:45 a.m.
The past eleven months have seen Nebraskans work to recover from flooding last spring. Those efforts have been helped by several federal agencies, whose help has come in the form of financial assistance for towns and individuals.
“Out basement was flooded, and that’s where my teenagers bedrooms are,” said Stacy Manzer, who lives in Fremont, Nebraska. She attended a National Weather Service flood meeting earlier this month. “And we actually had sewer water as well as the flood waters back up, so everything they owned had to be thrown out. We ended up having to leave our pets in the house for three days before we went in by boat to get our animals out of the house. We’re still in the process of recovering the basement for the kids.”
Manzer’s kids, like many in the area, felt the emotional toll of natural disaster.
“At first you could definitely see a difference in how they were dealing with anything, like you could tell that everything was affecting them on a deeper level than normal," Manzer said. "But to be honest now, they’ve come out of this with a more positive attitude because of the assistance that people have been giving to others who were flooded.”
Much of that assistance was local, from churches and non-profits, as well as individual neighbors and friends.
Manzer also sought help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. FEMA provides public assistance for local governments and individual assistance for people whose homes were damaged in a disaster.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it was gonna be," Manzer said. "They definitely had it stream-lined more than what I had heard it was. Personally, or as a family, we received our assistance, what they were going to give us, fairly quickly. They said it could take like a week. We received in within 48-hours.”
Nebraskans received just over $27 million in individual assistance. 24 million was for housing assistance, and 3 million was devoted to other needs.
Mike Cappannari is external affairs director for FEMA Region 7, which includes Nebraska. He said housing assistance dollars go towards things like home repairs, or rental assistance while those repairs happen. He explained what other needs assistance is used for.
“If there was affected individuals that needed help with legal counseling, maybe crisis counseling," Cappannari said. "Just some other opportunities that affected individuals could take to try and help them with their recovery.”
Dodge, Douglas, and Sarpy Counties received the most individual assistance, with a total of over $18 million.
“We never want to compare disasters. Throughout the region last year in Iowa, Kansas, and Missouri as well there were significant impacts," Cappannari said. "I would note, though, that Nebraska did have the highest amount of registrations and also dollars that were provided. And I do think that does speak to the impacts, and how significant that event was for the state of Nebraska.”
The impact was significant not just for individual families, but for infrastructure like roads and bridges, which local governments will need to repair.
These projects are funded through FEMA’s public assistance program. FEMA will reimburse up to 75% of the cost of a repair project, leaving 12.5% for the state to pay, and 12.5% for the local jurisdiction.
Bryan Tuma is assistant director of the Nebraska Emergency Management Agency. He said public assistance projects are expected to cost over 410 million dollars.
“We’re probably about 30% of the way through writing projects and we will make reimbursement on those projects once we can verify the costs or that the work on those projects is completed and we can close those out,” Tuma said.
Over 2000 projects have been identified, and over 600 projects have been written. So far, FEMA has obligated over $35 million that can be reimbursed back to local jurisdictions.
Tuma said in general, 50% of costs are reimbursed in the first two years after a disaster, and he expects a lot of activity in the next year, especially to reimburse costs for small projects.
Large projects, including those over the million dollar mark, will take longer to finish and therefore longer to reimburse.
“In some cases they require things like permitting, engineering studies, other activities," Tuma said. "In this disaster we’re seeing over 50% of our infrastructure costs are directed towards roads and bridges and things like materials, labor, technical expertise to do the projects, all those can contribute to the timeline for finishing those projects.”
For some towns, the cost of these projects before reimbursement will be significant. Governor Pete Ricketts has recommended 9.2 million dollars be added to the governor’s emergency fund to assist communities who cannot levy more taxes to cover the costs.
The money it takes to rebuild and the time it takes are personal to those whose homes were damaged by flooding. Stacy Manzer, in Fremont, said some people outside the flood area may not know the full impact.
“People who weren’t affected by the flood, I don’t think they realize how far behind a lot of the people who were flooded, how far behind they still are in recovery," Manzer said. "A lot of people think, okay, we had all this help at the beginning after the flood, and they don’t realize how that long-term effect is on some of the people that were hit by the flood.”
Recovery, both personal and community-wide, will take time and lots of hard work from Nebraskans and those in the federal government tasked with helping them.