Missouri Considers Options if Disaster Relief Fund Falls Short

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JEFFERSON CITY - State Budget Director Linda Luebbering said Thursday there is a chance Missouri's disaster relief fund of $150 million will not be large enough to cover the costs of all the natural disaster to hit the state this year.

Though the state's revenues exceeded expectations in fiscal year 2011 that just ended June 30, with 5.9 percent growth over fiscal 2010, a far greater amount this year is pouring into disaster relief for three main incidents - the Joplin tornado, southeast Missouri flooding that has now expanded across more of the state, and a spring tornado that struck St. Louis.

"The biggest issue is obviously Joplin. Joplin is a huge issue, very significant challenge for the people in Joplin. The state's share of those costs will be unusually high compared to previous years," Missouri Budget Director Linda Luebbering said. 

Gov. Jay Nixon's initial pledge of $50 million for disaster relief was set aside in June when he signed the FY 2012 budget. The additional $100 million added Friday was from FY 2011's revenue collections. That revenue number allowed the state to pull from such funds rather than cut spending in other areas to cover the cost. 

When asking a question about the budget, particularly disaster relief's place within it, all arrows point to Luebbering. She cleared up concern about possibly tapping into education's portion of the budget if more funds became necessary for disaster relief, saying the two are separate issues entirely. If more money is necessary down the line for disaster relief, Luebbering said the state will look into pulling from the "rainy day" fund. A rainy day fund essentially acts as a cash flow - borrowing from the state, for the state. Half of the fund can be used for rainy day purposes, emergency situations included. Luebbering said the fund has not been used since 1993's widespread flooding. There is hesitation because the Missouri constitution demands any money taken must be repaid during the following three fiscal years, thus squeezing the short term budget.

The federal government is covering 90 percent of Joplin's debris removal costs, 15 percent more than standard major disaster coverage. The state has a pending request for full coverage.