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Nixon seeks 100 percent federal help for tornadoes and floods

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 3, 2011 - Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon today filed a formal request that the federal government "cover 100 percent of the costs associated with public assistance in the wake of storms and floods that have hit Missouri since April 19." 

The appeal would cover the tornadoes that hit Lambert St. Louis International Airport and north St. Louis County, and the flooding in southeast Missouri, as well as the deadly cell that killed more than 130 people a couple weeks ago in Joplin.

"At a minimum," Nixon's office said in a statement, the governor "requested that the federal government adjust its typical cost-share arrangement for public assistance to allow for a 90 percent federal match, with a 10 percent match from the state and local governments."

Such aid would be above the typical assistance, in which the Federal Emergency Management Agency covers 75 percent of the uninsured recovery and repair costs after such disasters.

Earlier this week, FEMA agreed to cover 90 percent of the costs of removing debris in Joplin.

In his request to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Nixon cited "the historic devastation caused by tornadoes, high winds, hail and flooding across Missouri in recent weeks, especially in the city of Joplin and in southeastern Missouri, where thousands of acres were flooded after the intentional breach of the Birds Point levee."

"He noted that federal, state and local agencies continue to work with volunteer and non-profit groups on critical response and recovery efforts, and that the full extent of the uninsured damage to public buildings and infrastructure is unknown," Nixon's staff said.

Nixon's request has the bipartisan backing of much of Missouri's congressional delegation, including both senators -- Republican Roy Blunt and Democrat Claire McCaskill. Blunt noted that he sent a letter last week to President Barack Obama seeking the 100 percent assistance.

Such requests come at a time when the federal government has come under fire from Republicans who want severe budget cuts; U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor recently said that disaster spending needed to be coupled with budget cuts elsewhere to pay for it.

Missouri also is grappling with finding the money to cover at least its share of the disaster-relief costs. State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said earlier this week that $50 million has been set aside in the budget for the new fiscal year that begins July 1.

Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.