Senator discusses rebuilding, recovering in the wake of adversity

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt

By ROY BLUNT

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving with our friends and family this week, there’s much that I am grateful for this year — including the outpouring of support and assistance that our state witnessed throughout numerous destructive disasters.

Amid devastating tornadoes and unprecedented flooding, Missourians have worked tirelessly to rebuild and recover in a way that our state knows best — with communities rallying together and neighbors serving as first responders for one another during times of need.

The generous outpouring of time and resources from people across the state and nationwide helped many families and business owners get back on their feet in the short-term aftermath of these disasters. But there is still much work to be done if we’re going to help these communities get back to where they were — work that requires federal assistance and long-term planning.

I believe when the disaster exceeds the ability of communities and states that the federal government has a responsibility to help these communities rebuild, which is why I supported and authored legislation adding $400 million to the Community Development Block Grant program for dedicated disaster funding for the most impacted and distressed communities.

This funding will help communities address their unmet disaster needs, such as help repairing homes for low- and moderate-income households, paying for debris removal, and assisting with communities’ sewer and energy infrastructure repairs. This funding can also help keep energy and water costs low for the people of Joplin and provide support and incentives for job creators who have lost revenues but still agree to keep their businesses here in the region.

In an effort to speed up rebuilding efforts in affected areas across our state, I also introduced an amendment this week that cuts the bureaucratic red tape to allow the rebuilding of levees, locks and dams that were damaged or destroyed as quickly as possible.

Record flooding events along the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers have closed vital transportation corridors, shuttered businesses, and left personal property under water since mid-June. In Holt County alone, there was an astonishing 165,000 acres under water.

Birds Point saw the federal government flood 130,000 additional acres of farmland. In total, Missouri had over 400,000 acres or about 600 square miles under water. That’s roughly half the size of Rhode Island.

State and local officials have repeatedly told me, job creators who fuel their local economies can’t return to normal until the roads are rebuilt and the roads are not rebuilt until the flood protection is restored.

This amendment will ensure that communities rebuilding levees, locks, and dams are not forced to endure a time-consuming new environmental study — they will be able to simply go in and restore what was once in place.

This is our only chance to restore flood protection before the 2012 runoff season begins, which is critically important if we are going to restore all of the farm land, business and transportation infrastructure behind these structures.

As we look to long-term efforts, the annual Corps budget is where talk becomes action. Right now, we have citizens in our rural counties who have called the Corps and are told: “No, we do not have sufficient funds to restore eligible flood protection but yes, we do have enough money to buy your land if you are interested.”

That’s simply unacceptable. It cannot be said that flood control is a top priority when each annual budget reflects otherwise, and it’s ridiculous that the Corps’ current budget puts more emphasis on land acquisition than on flood protection for communities, businesses and personal property.

That’s why I introduced a second amendment last week that would restrict funding for the Missouri River Fish and Wildlife Recovery Program to $22 million. The rest of the funds originally dedicated to the program in the underlying bill would be left in the Corps General Construction fund to be spent on construction and major rehabilitation benefits. More than $616 million has already been expended on this program since 1992.

At a time when we are trying to rebuild after unprecedented flooding events, it makes sense to prioritize our limited resources to make sure taxpayer dollars are spent first and foremost on protecting people and property.

I will continue working closely with my colleagues in the Senate through the Missouri River Working Group, and looking for the fastest way to get federal aid to the people of Missouri who need disaster assistance beyond the ability of their communities or the state.

U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri serves as a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations as well as the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. He currently serves as Ranking Member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration and Related Agencies.