During my remaining months as Senator for District 16, you may find an informational column on an as-needed basis until January 8, 2019. The weather has been unusual, to say the least, after a Spring that felt more like the onset of Winter and a blazing hot month of May, Nebraska again surprised us all as the month of June saw precipitation totals close to 9 inches – a number we haven’t approached since 2010. July remains a mystery as it unfolds. As you look around the district you will see remnants of the raging storms, flooding, and high winds. Although many fields and crops are looking wonderful, you do not have to look very far to see the toll taken on hundreds, perhaps thousands of acres that sat or still sit under water.
Because of Governor Ricketts’ recent disaster declaration on June 28 following extreme rainfall, flooding and wind damages in our District, many affected by it may have questions about what it could mean for them regarding potential aid. This is what we learned to share with others.
The Nebraska Emergency Management Act was passed in 1996 to assist our citizens during times like these and others when disasters occur. The process is outlined by state statute and requires documentation of impact and unmet need for funds to be allocated for disaster recovery. First, the local governments of the disaster area, the county, city or village principal executive officer(s) formally declare a disaster within their jurisdictions. Principal executive officer means the mayor in a city of any class or the elected chairperson of the governing body of a village or county. Once locally issued, the Governor can then issue a disaster declaration for that area. The recent disaster declarations were set forth and will be managed by your local officials.
Once a state level declaration is made the local jurisdictions may be eligible for a 50% reimbursement of costs if those costs meet specific thresholds. All damage costs must first be submitted to your private insurance provider before the state can allocate any money for recovery. Aid funds are used primarily for infrastructure recovery and rebuilds in addition to public utility recovery and rebuilds.
The Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has 30 days from the end of the event to survey the area, document impact, and submit a request to the President for a federal disaster declaration. NEMA is working with the National Weather Service to determine what specific day will serve as the end date of the event. The request, if made, is reviewed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the President before a federal disaster declaration can be issued.
The best approach for the people of our region is to submit damages to private insurance companies and to keep track of documentation. That documentation of impact can then be communicated to your local elected officials and your county’s NEMA Coordinator. For residents of Burt and Washington County, your point of contact is Bill Pook, at 402-727-2785 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Residents of Cuming county should contact Bernie Hunke at 402-372-6012 or email@example.com.
Agriculture impact should be submitted to private insurance as well. My office has been in contact with the Nebraska Department of Agriculture to explore requirements regarding a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) disaster declaration for further assistance. Local USDA offices assess losses to agricultural production and damage to farm property to determine if such losses warrant a USDA disaster declaration for affected counties. Such designation would trigger the availability of USDA emergency loans and other assistance programs to help farmers in the designated counties and contiguous counties manage the disruption of income and to repair damage to farm improvements. To qualify, a county must have suffered at least 30% loss of production of at least one crop countywide. In some cases, an emergency declaration can be made even if losses to a single crop does not meet the 30% threshold if the USDA determines that the overall impact of lost production is severe enough to cause hardship and financial resources to enable producers to recover are limited.
Please ensure that any loss, costs, unmet need, or impact is appropriately documented and submitted first to your private insurer. That documentation can then be submitted to NEMA and local officials to aid their efforts in obtaining further financial assistance for the region. The road to recovery is a lengthy process involving many steps and a tremendous amount of documentation.
If you have questions or concerns you are welcome to visit the NEMA website at https://nema.nebraska.gov/, contact your local NEMA official, Bill Pook, at 402-727-2785 or firstname.lastname@example.org, Bernie Hunke at 402-372-6012 or email@example.com, your local elected official, your District 16 office at 402-417-2728, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.