A bill creating a fund to help counties and municipalities impacted by natural disasters has been signed into law.
Rep. Lonnie Sims, R-Jenks, authored House Bill 3819 to create the Oklahoma Disaster Mitigation and Recovery Matching Fund and appropriate $5 million to aid counties and communities impacted by natural disasters or at risk for future loss in their application for recovery and mitigation project financing.
"Our counties and municipalities, especially smaller communities, often can't afford the matching threshold required by many of the grants they're eligible for following disasters," Sims said. "We are literally leaving millions of dollars of available aid and reinvestment on the table every year because these communities can’t afford the local match requirement to qualify."
Oklahoma currently ranks third in the nation for total number of major natural disasters. When severe natural disasters occur, numerous capital resources and financial aid opportunities become available for communities to fund recovery, as well as restore and mitigate against future risk of loss.
Sims gave the example of a town's bridge getting washed out due to flooding. In this instance, a federal disaster declaration is made in response to the storm and a $1 million grant with a 10% local match requirement becomes available to replace the bridge as well as upgrade the reconstruction to prevent future storm damage. Sims said that for $100,000 of local investment, the town stands to receive $900,000 in additional funding for a 900% return on local dollars, but if the town doesn't have the local dollars to qualify, the citizens must bear the full financial cost often at a much later date prolonging the devastating health, safety and economic impact of the storm.
“We have to go on the offense when it comes to disaster and capture this funding,” Sims said. “Our goal here is to turn $5 million from the state into up to $50 million that can be invested locally on an annual basis.”
Sims chairs the House County and Municipal Government Committee and authored several pieces of legislation following the Arkansas River flood in May 2019. The record flooding led to the evacuation of hundreds of people and raised concerns about the stress on the Tulsa County’s 70-year-old levee system.
“During the devastating Arkansas River flooding in 2019, the most common request I had from constituents impacted was to not forget them once the waters receded.” Sims said. “I am very proud to say that we have not forgotten them, and thanks to the support of my colleagues and Governor Stitt, we have taken another great step forward.”
HB3819 was carried in the Senate by Sen. David Rader, R-Tulsa. These two legislators also teamed up in 2020 to pass Senate Bill 1269, which called for the creation of the Statewide Flood Resiliency Plan and Revolving Fund.
“Our local communities must have access to the resources they need to recover from a natural disaster,” Rader said. “This fund will help municipalities access the matching threshold needed to unlock funding from grants they qualify for – an important step to recovery when disaster strikes.”
HB3819 goes into effect July 1.