By DAVID KRIER
Nearly seven months have passed since devastating floods inundated Boscobel in June 2013, and still not a penny of the nearly $500,000 in emergency block grant funds awarded to the city have been distributed. Grant administrator Dale Klemme of Community Development Alternatives says changes at the state level have had much to do with the delay, including new environmental and income guideline requirements.
“The whole process has changed,” Klemme said. “On Dec. 6 we were told by the state that we needed to do a full-blown environmental review, which is a first. It used to be two days. Now it’s 60 days; that’s part of the problem.”
Klemme says he is expecting a letter from the state on Feb. 17 allowing him to release funds to eligible homeowners affected by the floods.
“Nobody’s gotten any money yet,” Klemme said, despite rumors to the contrary.
In addition to the environmental assessment, the state has also made income guidelines more complicated.
“In the past a household’s gross income was the deciding factor,” Klemme said. “The rule has now changed. We are now required to look at household assets, including bank accounts that must be confirmed by the bank. If it’s from Social Security, we’ve got to get a letter from Social Security. It’s a slow process and one that has turned some people off.”
In fact, one Crawford County couple was ready to turn down $26,000 in flood relief due to the asset requirement, until Klemme informed them that they would still be income eligible despite the new rule.
“I’m surprised more people were not put off by this,” he said.
Currently, to be eligible for Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds, flood victims must not earn more than 80 percent of the county’s median income. For a family of two that equates to $37,500.
“You’d think you would catch a lot of (eligible) people,” Klemme said, “but we’ve found that about half (of the applicants) are over the income requirements, some not by much, some substantially. I’m surprised by that.”
One of the applicants recently told she was not income eligible for flood relief was Misty Molzof, whose Wisconsin Avenue home was completely inundated with floodwater.
“For some reason I don’t qualify,” she said. “I’m going to call Governor Walker’s office, because there’s no reason this money can’t go to people who need it just because they’re a few thousand dollars over the poverty level.”
Klemme said 40 Boscobel households were on his initial list seeking flood relief, but “no more than half are income eligible.” Still, he urges patience.
Klemme said that in the initial application material sent from the state, the contract between the city and the state says that households up to 100 percent of the county median income “might be served” through the block grant’s Emergency Assistance Program.
“So they did open the door,” Klemme said. “First we will see how much is spent on the 80 percent. They we’ll see how many were rejected between 80 and 100 percent if there’s money left over. We should know that as soon as possible to let people know one way or the other, because people are hanging.”
Boscobel Chamber of Commerce President Tom Richter said his organization has raised nearly $60,000 to assist Boscobel flood victims, money that he would like to see distributed to working families who may not qualify for the CDBG funds.
“Our whole intention was to get money in the hands of people who did not qualify. Those are the people we’re looking at,” Richter said. “Our money has not been disbursed yet, so all is not lost for those who don’t qualify. We had to wait for the state guidelines so our money did not get mixed in with theirs and nobody gets anything.
“There is money out there yet for people who did not qualify. These people need to hang tight a little, but also put a little pressure on the state.”
The deadline for comment on the potential release of funds is Feb. 16 and Klemme plans on meeting with the city’s CDBG Finance committee as soon as possible after that to begin the distribution process. According to the state, the grant process is supposed to be completed by Sept. 30. However, Klemme urges anyone who has suffered flood damage and has not applied for assistance to do so.
“If in fact you have incurred flood damage and have not been contacted, I urge people to contact our office,” he said.
Klemme's office can be contacted by calling 1-800-655-0683.