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Committee OKs $50 million to replenish state disaster contingency account, establish recurring funding

On this first day of spring, we are reminded that at least in theory winter’s over and warmer temps are coming.

But for Rep. Gene Pelowski, Jr. (DFL-Winona) it’s also time to remember that any Minnesota season can bring nasty weather, and it’s wise to have state money at the ready when weather disasters inevitably strike.

“What I dread now are the rains to come and the storms that will be with the rains, and we will likely not be in session,” he said.

Pelowski sponsors HF4753, which would send $50 million to the state’s disaster assistance contingency account.

“This bill would finally stabilize the funding of the disaster contingency account,” he said.

The House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill Tuesday on a voice vote and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Prior to the fund’s creation in 2014, the Legislature would need to convene every time a disaster was declared, often in a special session, to appropriate money for response efforts.

“When the disasters hit, we need to get aid to those areas immediately,” Pelowski said.

Fund dollars are used for responding quickly to natural disasters declared by the federal or state government, including payment of the nonfederal share of presidential declarations (25%), and the state share of gubernatorial declarations (75%).

[MORE: Read about the contingency fund at Session Daily]

A 2023 law appropriated $40 million from the General Fund in fiscal year 2023 to reload the account.

Its current balance is $26 million, an amount Pelowski said “goes by awfully fast” in a time of need.

The $50 million ask would not be a one-time appropriation like years past, which Pelowski said always left the account “curiously underfunded.”

Instead, the bill calls for the disaster account to automatically get $50 million each year there is a budget surplus, but only after four other special state accounts get their funds first. Those are the cash flow account, the budget reserve account, increases in aid payments to schools, and restoration of certain aid reductions and property tax recognition shifts.

Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview), the committee chair, said the process outlined in the bill is a good one, and would go a long way toward ending the politicization of the fund that began soon after it was created.

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