The $1.2-trillion infrastructure bill recently approved by the U.S. Senate includes $500 million for a revolving loan fund created earlier this year that would allow cities and other municipalities nationwide to pay for projects that improve resiliency against floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters.
After the floods of 2019, 100 mayors along the Mississippi River corridor in 10 states from Minnesota to Louisiana began pushing for the creation and funding of the resiliency loan fund.
The STORM Act [Safeguarding Tomorrow through Ongoing Risk Mitigation], authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s administrator to provide grants to states to establish revolving funds to pay for improvements to reduce risks from disasters and natural hazards nationwide. It was signed into law by President Donald J. Trump in January.
The law's intention is to provide funds to local governments for projects to reduce or mitigate disasters, ultimately decreasing “the loss of life and property, the cost of insurance claims and federal disaster payments.” The loans will be provided at with an interest rate of 1.5%.
Mayor Bob Gallagher of Bettendorf, Iowa, (R) co-chair of the Mississippi River Cities and Towns Initiative, called the passage of the infrastructure bill by the Senate “a giant step forward for our nation. Chief among those benefiting from the plan are our communities — the cities and towns along the Mississippi River.”
While Gallagher wants to see the $500-million loan fund capitalized in the infrastructure bill, he said the MRCTI, a bipartisan group, has a list of other resiliency-related initiatives that aren’t in the infrastructure bill.
“There is hope for additional funding in the areas of climate mitigation measures, conservation, regenerative agriculture, clean manufacturing and carbon sequestration," Gallagher says. Some of those initiatives could be included in a separate $3.5 trillion spending package under consideration in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Colin Wellenkamp, executive director of the St. Louis-based MRCTI, said the organization wants to see the infrastructure bill approved by the House and signed into law whether a companion $3.5-trillion spending bill, one that some members of the House of Representatives say must be passed before consideration of the infrastructure package, is passed or not.
“If they can come around to a larger package with more items and different types of infrastructure in it, great,” he said. “But if it looks like that effort is going to tank everything and we’re not going to get there, either because it is too expensive or they can’t agree on a price tag that large, then the Senate (infrastructure) package is nice.”
"We don’t want to see the whole thing torpedoed if we can’t get the larger vehicle through," he added.
Even if the infrastructure bill does not ultimately pass, Wellenkamp expects the resiliency loan fund to receive money through regular appropriations by late fall or winter. He says the Federal Emergency Management Agency must then craft guidance around the program, which he predicts will be finished by the spring. He said states also must enact their own enabling legislation.