Historic flooding anniversary: Lawmakers introduce bill to streamline disaster assistance process
REEDSBURG, Wis. — It’s been exactly a year since historic flooding poured into Sauk County communities like Reedsburg and La Valle. State lawmakers are now introducing a new bill aiming to make sure local governments are prepared for future disasters.
Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Tony Kurtz announced the new proposal Thursday standing on North Webb Road, which was underwater a year ago. Both of their legislative districts cover Reedsburg.
“We want our communities to be prepared for a natural disaster before it happens,” Marklein said during the news conference.
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The Disaster Assistance Streamlining Bill aims to make it easier and faster for cities and local municipalities to apply and receive disaster assistance money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The proposal would require the state to train all local governments on how to sign up for the System for Award Management program required to receive money from FEMA through the state. All cities would be required to create an account by June 30, 2021.
Marklein said data from the Department of Military Affairs shows for the last two disasters in the state, 32 percent of potential recipients had not registered in the program, meaning they were not eligible for disaster assistance.
“We want to make sure that our communities are registered long before a natural disaster hits, and hopefully, they’ll never have to use it,” he said.
Eric Lovegreen lives next to Babb Creek in one of the hardest hit neighborhoods in the city. Unlike many of his neighbors, he was able to keep his home, but it has foundation damage.
“Three floods in the last 10 years — it’s a lot. My family and I are just getting really tired,” Lovegreen said.
Reedsburg’s emergency management director, Josh Kowalke, said the city is still reeling from the flooding last September and August.
“We’re still waiting on money to be returned for us,” Kowalke said. “We’re a year out from the 2018 floods, and we still don’t have funds coming back to us.”
It’s tens of thousands of dollars that he said the city would like to get back into the budget.
He said streamlining the disaster assistance application process could make a big difference for any community affected by a natural disaster.
“The paperwork is very time-consuming. It’s very labor intensive,” Kowalke explained.
The bill, which has the support of 15 Republicans and two Democrats, would require the state to issue FEMA money to cities within two weeks of the receipt of funds. It would also provide an electronic option to submit information to the state and receive reimbursements.
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