Should government help flood victims?

Two items on the flood patrol today.

First, the Minnesota State Patrol has posted some images of the flooding on Facebook. This is the St. Clair water treatment plant, which is currently encircled.


On a more political front, Ed Lotterman, the Pioneer Press business writer, brings up what few have mentioned, so far — politicians calling for less government, turning to government in the wake of the flooding in Minnesota.

However, nothing in the Constitution authorizes the federal government to tax the general populace to help a few hurt by natural events. Nor did the feds do much of this until recent decades. There was virtually no federal aid after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. During the 1927 floods in the lower Mississippi valley, federal action was largely limited to politicians exhorting the citizenry to give money to the Red Cross and other private charities to carry out relief.

This is not to say that individual states should not decide to help flood victims if their voters wish. But they should be aware that such assistance creates incentives for people to continue to build and live in areas where nature says they should not.


  • Matt

    This is always a twisted one for those of us with a libertarian bent. Government has been messing with flood plains, riverbeds, county drainage ditches, dams and other projects for too long to not be culpable when a flood does damage peoples houses. Having said that, you, I and everyone else knows that the government has been messing with those projects and can reasonably assume that the risk exists and should be avoided or prepared for.

    Much like with health care costs, if we left the responsibility up to individuals and families and their insurance companies the problem would self correct. Instead we do, as Lotterman suggests, perpetuate the problem by subsidizing stupidity.

  • Tony

    To those who say people should choose not to live in areas “where nature says they should not.” Here is a thought:

    Almost any region in this beautiful country has potential for nature to make a mess. Following this thought process would mean all current California residents should move (earthquake danger). Most on the east coast (hurricane, snowstorms, heat waves). Definately ALL golf coast residents should flee. I guess we should all move the the middle of the country.

  • Elizabeth T

    In 1906, following the S.F. earthquake, women were not allowed to vote, racial segregation was common, there was no social security/medicare, there were only 45 States, and 15 Amendments to the Constitution.

    We’ve come a long way, baby.

    The Constitution doesn’t mandate flood control engineering, either. But the Fed. gov’t has been spending zillions on it for centuries. If this person wants the government to avoid giving money to people living in flood plains, then the gov’t needs to stop spending money on any type of flood engineering controls.

    Where do we draw the line for disaster relief? There is no way that any organization short of the Federal Gov’t could have dealt with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. This isn’t 1927 any more!

    I am confused over this argument: what exactly should the federal government actually be paying for? Disaster Relief isn’t mandated in the Constitution, but neither are interstate highways. I cannot imagine D.C. saying “hey, rebuilding I-94 isn’t constitutionally mandated, and no one but you guys in Minn. use it … so you need to pay for it if you really want to keep it.” After all, building more highways just encourages undesirable behavior that costs the gov’t even more money.

    There is SO SO much which the federal government pays for, which we don’t see, since they give the money to the state first. It’s much too simple to point at federal taxes and claim it should be paid for by the state. The state is merrily spending money while actually getting it from the Feds.

    This surrounds a political philosophy neither conservative nor progressive: it is federalist or not. A decision which was ultimately settled in Appomattox a few years ago.

  • Matt A

    Sorry Tony. Can’t move to the midde of the country – tornadoes.

  • Eric

    I am a flood victim. My house ended up with 3 feet of water in it. However, the water came in through the floor drain and sump when the city shut down the treatment plant to protect the equipment. So although water surrounded my house, since it didn’t come in the windows, my flood insurance doesn’t apply and instead I get my limited sewer backup coverage.

    With a govt in massive debt, it pains me to think of taking a handout from them. However, the federal govt’s intervention in flood insurance is one of the reason’s my coverage was limited in the first place, along with my local govt’s poor planning for an event such as this.

    To be honest, there is no good answer at this point if the govt should be helping. I am working with Tim Walz along with my senators and local state reps to figure out how to better prepare for this in the future so hopefully there will be less need for govt help if this happens again. We can be better prepared, and I hope I can bring about some change to do just that.

  • JackU

    With respect to the Interstate Highway system, the original justification for the Interstates was related to national security. The secondary justification is the Interstate Commerce Clause, which was the justification for long distance railroad projects for almost a century before that.

    Thus since the Interstate system is effected by flooding almost anywhere there is a significant population base then that becomes the justification for helping everyone effected. (There is also that bit in the preamble about providing for the general welfare which is a bit nebulous but could be viewed as Constitutional justification for this type of relief.)

  • matt


    The general welfare clause was meant to prohibit the government from helping in local disasters – with the emphasis being on general rather than welfare. Google the federal response to the Savannah fire to see how the framers (this all took place in 1796 so it is relevant to how the constitution was interpreted at inception) felt about relief from natural disasters.

  • bsimon

    For something like a flood or hurricane, there is merit in government (i.e. the rest of us) helping people recover. But I would cap that at once per address. i.e. if you live in a floodplain now & lose everything to a hundred year flood, ok, we’ll help you out -this time. But that address cannot collect again. The idea being that we shouldn’t be rewarding people for making the same mistake twice. Same goes for hurricanes.

  • John P

    I will repeat what an engineer for the Corps of Engineers who worked on river dynamics once said to me.

    “The water always wins in the end”.

    Both government and homeowners should keep that in mind.