Committee completes recovery grant process

A grant program that has helped about 600 Ward County residents rebuild their flooded homes or replace mobile homes is coming to an end after distributing nearly $3.5 million.

The Souris Valley Long Term Recovery Committee received a state Rebuild and Retain Grant to provide assistance to flooded homeowners. A review committee that has been allocating the funds since April 2012 held its final meeting June 5.

Due to unspent grant money in other counties, the state was able to transfer an additional $1.2 million to the Souris Valley Long Term Recovery Committee to supplement the money that grant recipients previously received. The deadline for recipients to request those funds is July 1. So far about half have responded. After July 1, the available money will be divided among applicants based on their previously determined level of need, said Connie Philipenko, Souris Valley Long Term Recovery coordinator.

Philipenko read several letters of thanks from recipients to volunteers on the review committee who gathered at an appreciation breakfast Wednesday.

“Absolutely, genuinely concerned about people,” one recipient wrote about the people involved in the program. “We simply couldn’t have done it without your help and encouragement,” another wrote.

The letters supported the significance of the grants, even though the average award of $4,000 was small in comparison to the financial loss that people experienced. The initial round of grants generated awards ranging from $3,600 to $5,600 per household. The second round of grants is expected to provide an average of $2,000 per houshold.

Intake specialist Judy Anderson with the Long Term Recovery staff worked with applicants to assess eligibility and brought their requests to the review committee. Residents with incomes below 300 percent of the federal poverty level were eligible for grants. Reimbursement was available for receipts showing expenses already incurred. The program focused on main-floor repairs necessary for health and safety, such as doors, windows, electrical and other essential work.

The review committee included a couple of members who were rebuilding their own homes after the flood, although they were not eligible for the grant program. Committee members brought varied backgrounds and insights to the program, which were useful in determining how to apply the state grant rules in the program.

“Everybody had a different set of expectations and expertise so we were able to complement each other,” said committee member Sharon Johnson, a retired school administrator. The others were Realtor Clyde Thorne, retired judge Nels Olson and Carrie Welnel, who has worked with low-income housing at the Minot Housing Authority.

The committee met weekly last summer and fall and had met every two weeks since. They awarded as much as $176,785 in a single meeting. The program received about 900 applications. Philipenko said the majority of those rejected didn’t meet the income guidelines.

Ensuring that the money truly went to those eligible was one challenge, but committee members were just as concerned about ensuring that eligible residents applied.

“One of the things that was the most frustrating was getting out word to seniors that the only thing that would be counted was their Social Security,” Johnson said, noting that many seniors were afraid their retirement savings would make them income ineligible.

“Getting the word out and getting them to believe it it was very difficult,” she said.

The committee initially was frustrated over rules that required them to turn down residents of mobile homes. Those residents later became eligible due to the state’s change in the rules. The program also assisted people buying their Federal Emergency Management Agency units.