With at least $55 million in estimated damage and far more to come, Minneapolis will need state and federal aid as it attempts to rebuild hundreds of structures after the riots following George Floyd’s death, Mayor Jacob Frey said.
City officials are still putting together a complete tally of the destruction and cautioned that estimates are likely to rise significantly. Gov. Tim Walz and members of Minnesota’s congressional delegation are trying to get government assistance to offset that cost. But in the past, neither the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) nor Congress has consistently sent federal funding to cities ravaged by riots.
Minneapolis City Council members on Tuesday received an update from the city’s Community Planning & Economic Development department that estimated at least 220 buildings had been damaged, resulting in a minimum of $55 million in costs, though the city was “not yet ready to produce a credible estimate” of the losses.
Frey said in an interview that he expects the full cost of the damage to be “tens, if not hundreds of millions” of dollars, across both Twin Cities.
“We will do everything we can as we shift to recovery mode,” Frey said. “We’re recovering from crises sandwiched on top of each other, from COVID-19 to the police killing and then the looting which took place afterward.”
Walz said Tuesday that he is pushing for funding to rebuild damaged communities. His administration has been talking to U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith, as well as U.S. Reps. Ilhan Omar and Betty McCollum, who represent the Twin Cities. Walz said they have had conversations about seeking federal assistance to rebuild communities and “we have expressed some of our desires to explore what we can do there.”
After the 2015 riots in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan repeatedly sought about $19 million in aid from FEMA for public agencies that responded to the unrest. At the time, Hogan pointed to federal assistance provided to Los Angeles following the 1992 unrest over the beating of Rodney King. FEMA denied Hogan’s request.
McCollum expressed doubt about Minneapolis and St. Paul’s chances of getting federal disaster funding, a decision that is up to President Donald Trump. Alternatively, the state could seek funding through Congress’ annual appropriations, but that would require the Democratic-led House, Republican-led Senate and Trump to sign on.
“To be realistic, the odds of that happening are, at best, very difficult,” McCollum said in an e-mail.
Trump was harshly critical in a conference call with governors earlier in the week, calling them “weak” for not tamping down violent protests soon enough. Trump praised Minnesota’s use of the National Guard after several nights of escalating violence and looting.
McCollum urged Walz to seek a disaster declaration, particularly given law enforcement investigations into organized arson and looting.
“If it is demonstrated outside provocateurs committed acts of destruction then there is a clear rationale for an emergency declaration by President Trump,” she said.
Omar also said in a statement Wednesday that Minnesota cannot rely on Trump to dedicate FEMA resources.
“So Congress must step in,” she said. “I am working with my colleagues to create an Emergency Relief Fund specifically for communities trying to rebuild after social and civil rights crises.”
Walz also said he wants support for damaged areas along Lake Street in the state’s bonding bill to fund infrastructure. Minnesota legislators are scheduled to return to the State Capitol for a special session June 12. The session has been expected to focus on the bonding bill, as well as tax relief and COVID-19 spending.
“Whether you live in Mankato or whether you live in Roseau or you’re down in Winona, it’s in our best interest as a state that shares things together to make sure that community is rebuilt,” Walz said.
Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and the Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous Caucus made similar calls for state aid.
The bonding bill can’t be used to repair private businesses, but it could assist with fixing and rebuilding public buildings, such as libraries and police stations. Sen. David Senjem, chair of the committee that focuses on bonding in the Republican-led Senate, said he is open to acting quickly to include some of those needs in a borrowing bill.
The decisions about whether to provide aid could have a major impact on the city’s finances, which had already been strained by the coronavirus pandemic.
On Memorial Day, before Floyd died, city officials were discussing ways to cut $165 million from the budget as they tried to account for plummeting revenue and the increased costs of responding to the public health crisis. Frey and the City Council are expected to work together in the coming weeks to amend the 2020 budget.
“This will be a budget crunch. To say otherwise would be dishonest, but we are committed to the city,” Frey said. “We have a committed team, and I know between our city enterprise and the strength of our communities, we’re going to get through this.”