MADISON — Damage estimates are soaring in southern Wisconsin after weeks of severe flooding and storms destroyed pavement and damaged hundreds of homes. Here’s a look at where things stand:
How bad is it? Gov. Scott Walker tweeted Thursday that the flooding and storms that began on Aug. 17 have caused at least $208.7 million in damage, including $98.2 million in damage to homes, $40.8 million in damage to businesses and $69.6 million to public infrastructure. Emergency officials expect those numbers to rise. Many communities are still responding to rising water and haven’t had a chance to tally the damage.
Who’s been hit hardest? Almost all of southern Wisconsin has been affected, but Dane County, which is home to the state capital of Madison, has gotten the worst of it. That county has seen about $155 million in damage so far. About 1,540 residences have been affected, with five destroyed. Lake Monona was at a record high on Thursday morning.
Who’s going to pay for all this? Probably not the insurance companies. According to Dane County officials, only 2 percent of the affected residences and businesses have flood insurance. But help is out there. Walker declared a statewide emergency on Aug. 29, triggering a number of recovery programs.
The state Department of Administration, for example, is offering grants to help low- to moderate-income homeowners and businesses as well as help repair local infrastructure. Local governments can use state contracts to purchase goods and service during recovery.
The Department of Children and Families offers one-time payments to low-income parents with at least one child in the house who are facing natural disasters. The money can be used to pay security deposits, stop an eviction or pay a utility bill.
The Department of Health Services is supplying test kits for private wells, food stamp users can request replacement benefits if they lost food during the flooding and the Department of Workforce Development can provide unemployment benefits to people whose employer has temporarily or permanently closed due to flooding.
What about the Feds?
The federal government offers a complex web of disaster assistance programs. Many require a federal disaster declaration before they’re activated, but others don’t.
A federal disaster declaration would activate at least one of two major Federal Emergency Management Agency programs. One is designed to reimburse local governments for repairs. The other is designed to reimburse individuals for essential repairs. A full list of FEMA assistance programs can be found at https://www.disasterassistance.gov/get-assistance/by-category-or-agency .
The U.S. Department of Agriculture also offers a host of disaster assistance programs for farmers. Some are triggered by a disaster declaration from the USDA secretary or the president. Others don’t require a declaration.
One program activated by secretarial declaration is a low-interest loan program that can pay for lost feed and livestock — 100 cattle were killed in a Fond du Lac County tornado on Aug. 28. A secretarial or presidential declaration would also trigger a program in which the USDA postpones the next payment on agency loans to free up farmers’ money for repairs.
Another program that doesn’t require a declaration helps pay for replacing or repairing fencing, removing debris from fields and regrading eroded land.
What does it take to win a federal disaster declaration? Federal emergency officials make a recommendation to the president after they consider a number of factors, including the cost, the disaster’s impact, disaster history over the last year, the degree of trauma and the extent of insurance coverage as well as state assistance. USDA secretarial declarations usually involve drought; any other natural disasters must leave a county with a 30 percent production loss of at least one crop or a determination that lenders can’t provide emergency financing.
Will walker ask for a declaration? Probably. Walker’s spokeswoman, Amy Hasenberg, said Thursday that surveyors will conduct a statewide damage assessment after flood waters recede. She said once that assessment is complete, the request process can take place.