Denied federal aid to help rebuild burned-out, vandalized businesses in the wake of riots that followed George Floyd’s killing, Minnesota leaders pondered their next steps Saturday.
But it’s not yet clear what other sources of funds they may tap.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on Friday denied Gov. Tim Walz’s request for nearly $16 million in aid to help rebuild and repair structures in Minneapolis and St. Paul, many of them left in ruins by the riots and fires that erupted during protests of Floyd’s May 25 death while in Minneapolis police custody.
On July 2, Walz had asked President Donald Trump to declare a “major disaster” for the state of Minnesota. More than 1,500 buildings were damaged by fires, looting and vandalism, racking up more than $500 million in damages, according to Walz. The $16 million would have been used to reimburse local governments for debris clearing, repair and rebuilding costs.
In a prepared statement, FEMA said Saturday that after “a thorough review,” the agency determined “that the impact to public infrastructure is within the capabilities of the local and state governments to recover from.”
On Saturday, Walz’s spokesman, Teddy Tschann, said the governor had little to add to his Friday statement expressing disappointment with FEMA’s denial. Tschann said Walz is considering appealing the decision, which he has 30 days to do.
The governor has been “exploring all options,” to help rebuild, but those discussions are too preliminary to discuss, Tschann said.
Minneapolis’ and St. Paul’s mayors also expressed disappointment with the lack of federal help.
“This decision is another sad reminder that Americans cannot look to this president’s administration for support, even in our darkest hours,” St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said through a spokesman.
“The people and businesses that make Minneapolis the cultural and economic engine for our state are hurting,” Mayor Jacob Frey said in a prepared statement. “And with local government budgets already stretched thin by the pandemic, the need for compassion and support from the federal level could not be more critical.”
Many small businesses and grocery stores, pharmacies and post offices were damaged during the unrest. In his letter to FEMA, Walz said what happened in the Twin Cities after Floyd’s death was the second-most destructive incident of civil unrest in U.S. history, after the 1992 riots in Los Angeles.
The overwhelming majority of FEMA’s disaster declarations follow natural events like hurricane, tornadoes and flooding.
While there are no recent examples of FEMA aiding cities hit by rioting, its response in 1992 to Los Angeles was a major counterexample. Within a week of the riots, President George H.W. Bush had declared Los Angeles a federal disaster area, and within a month the government began distributing $638 million in assistance to the city, according to the New York Times. Adjusted for inflation, that’s $1.2 billion in today’s dollars.
In 2015, however, FEMA, under the Obama administration, denied aid to the state of Maryland after rioting in Baltimore over the death of Freddie Gray, a Black man who died in police custody. Maryland appealed the decision and was again rejected.
In Minnesota, the Walz administration conducted a preliminary damage assessment riot that found nearly $16 million of eligible damages related to fires. That led the state to request that amount.
Not every leader thought federal aid was a good idea. U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Minn., sent a letter to Trump in response to Walz’s request asking for a thorough review of the state’s response to the unrest. “If the federal government is expected to assist in the clean-up of these unfortunate weeks, it has an obligation to every American — prior to the release of funding — to fully understand the events which allowed for this level of destruction to occur,” Emmer wrote.
Staff writers Reid Forgrave and Ryan Faircloth contributed to this report.