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Aid to flooded Missourians not coming any time soon

Though the Missouri River has crested, communities devastated by the floods won’t see federal aid any time soon.

That’s because the water must completely recede before the state can complete damage estimates, according to State Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Caty Eisterhold. Impacted areas must reach a certain threshold of damage to qualify for federal public assistance.

When the water completely recedes, of course, depends on the forecast. Spencer Mell, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Kansas City office, said that while the river level is currently going down, up to 2.5 inches of rain is predicted after Thursday.

“As of right now we don’t see these rivers (completely) receding until at least the first week of April,” Mell said.

The state of emergency Gov. Mike Parson declared Thursday allows the state to eventually apply for Federal Emergency Management Agency aid.

For the state to qualify for public assistance, there must be nearly $9 million in flood damage statewide, according to Eisterhold. The hardest hit counties -- Atchison, Holt and Buchanan -- must have about $21,500, $18,500 and $337,200 in damage, respectively, to qualify. The figures are based on population.

In the meantime, Missouri senators are pressing for aid and answers.

Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the The Senate Appropriations Committee, was able to secure changes in a supplemental $3 billion disaster relief bill Tuesday to include flood victims. The original bill included assistance only for victims of natural disasters that occurred in 2018.

“The recent flooding in Missouri has left many family farms completely devastated,” Blunt said in a statement. “I appreciate Chairman (Richard) Shelby’s partnership in making sure Missouri has access to funds to respond to the extensive flood damage in our state. In light of the urgent need for disaster relief, I hope the House and Senate will be able to quickly come together and get a bill to the president’s desk.”

While Blunt worked on aid, Missouri’s junior senator met with senior Army Corps of Engineers officials Tuesday afternoon. Farmers along the Missouri River have long been suspect of the Corps’ management of the river.

The meeting was offered to Sen. Josh Hawley by Secretary of the Army Mark Esper during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, after Hawley questioned Esper about the floods.

In a statement released after the meeting, Hawley said he was “even more alarmed at the agency’s lack of clear priorities.”

Agency officials listed eight priorities, many of which were in tension with each other and were not integrated into a clear operating plan, Hawley said.

“The Corps is hamstrung on the one hand by radical environmentalist lobbyists that are forcing the agency to prioritize wildlife over farmers,” Hawley said in the statement. “This is made worse by the fact that Congress has failed to give the Corps a clear ranking of priorities or clear orders on how to achieve them.”

He called for broad reforms, including an overhaul of the agency’s master manual and moving the Corps to a different federal department. Possibilities for a new home include the Departments of Transportation or Interior.

Requests for comment to the Corps were not immediately returned.

Environmental groups have long said the Corps’ management in prioritizing farm levees over floodplains and wetlands that absorb the river’s natural flooding has exacerbated the damage.

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