Midlanders who see homes, storefronts, crops and roads lost to floodwaters released by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will wonder, “Who's going to pay for this?” The short answer is a mix of the owner or renter and taxpayers, depending on whether the property has flood insurance. Even local and state governments can apply for the federal taxpayers to share in the costs of rebuilding roads, bridges and other public infrastructure. A sampling of the available help and who pays:
Federal taxpayers subsidize flood insurance because few could afford the premiums private insurers would charge to cover their costs. That's a big reason why the National Flood Insurance Program is about $18 billion in the red.
The average annual flood insurance premium in Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas and Missouri is $703, officials say. This provides approximately $150,000 worth of flood coverage for structures and contents.
The owners of homes and businesses without insurance must cover their own losses. It's too late to add coverage for this summer's flood-in-progress. Officials encourage anyone with flood-related damage to file a claim on their flood insurance policy and let the adjuster determine whether a loss is covered.
If floods cause enough damage, the president can declare a disaster area. President Barack Obama did just that Saturday, declaring a flood emergency in 18 Nebraska counties. The president's order means that Nebraska is eligible for federal aid to cover 75 percent of disaster costs to state and local government agencies. Gov. Terry Branstad has requested a disaster declaration for six western Nebraska counties.
The president also could open the Federal Emergency Management Agency's individual assistance program for people with damaged properties. But the program is designed to cover basic emergency necessities, not help replace homes.
The average amount of assistance to a family in last year's Tennessee floods was less than $7,000, officials said.
Low-interest, federally backed disaster loans are available to help with flood repairs and property replacement.
Tom Townsend of Omaha has a home in the Thomas Lakes area along the Platte River. His house is outside the flood plain, so he never got flood insurance.
Individual disaster assistance, he said, “wouldn't cover a whole lot of repair work.”
Federally backed flood insurance is available for businesses in communities that participate in the flood insurance program, but any plan would need to have been purchased before the current flood to cover its damage.
For those flooded, low-interest loans are available through the U.S. Small Business Administration. Business physical disaster loans aim to replace damaged commercial property, including inventory and supplies.
Economic injury disaster loans provide capital to small businesses to help them through post-disaster recovery.
Employees last week at Mid America Motorplex in Pacific Junction, Iowa, were placing sandbags and moving anything electronic out of the drag strip and race course. Even concessions equipment was being hauled up the hill.
Operations Manager Jimmy “Roadkill” Howe said flood insurance typically makes little sense for such seasonal businesses.
If the waters do come, their options are simple, he said.
“Suck it up, clean it up and take what little money we do have and make it work,” Howe said.
Obama's emergency declaration covering lost public property means that federal and state taxpayers will provide assistance for damage to roads, city halls, courthouses and such — even stadiums and convention centers, if Omaha is asking.
Roads are often the costliest, most common repair.
Nebraska is uniquely positioned to collect under the public assistance program, because its public power operations are considered political subdivisions. That gives them the same eligibility as a town or county.
For farmers facing crop losses, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has various ways for taxpayers to lend a hand, including a moratorium on payments for loans obtained through rural development programs.
A key for farmers who get flooded is the federal crop insurance program, which reimburses the loss of yield beyond a deductible amount. According to the department, more than 400,000 acres had been affected by flooding in Iowa and Nebraska.
The department has a special, disaster-related nutrition assistance program — food stamps — that's been tapped to provide $54 million in assistance over the past month and a half to disaster victims in the Missouri and Mississipi River Basins.
“It's not like a tornado that comes in a heartbeat and it's gone in a heartbeat — and you can actually begin picking up your life,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said. “Flooding is a much longer process.”
WHO PAYS HOW MUCH?
Federal taxpayers generally cover 75 percent of costs after a presidential disaster declaration that also merits individual or public property assistance.
State taxpayers provide the final 25 percent with individual assistance. When governments qualify to replace lost public property, the remaining 25 percent is typically split between state and local taxpayers.
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