ANNAPOLIS – Maryland House of Delegates Friday unanimously approved a bill to provide relief to the hundreds of families still reeling in the wake of tropical storm Isabel, which swept through the region five months ago.
The emergency bill would provide loans for the more than 300 families living in makeshift housing because of significant disparities between insurance settlements and rebuilding costs.
“It’s about providing resources . . . to help those who have suffered devastating losses due to natural disasters,” said bill supporter Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel.
Busch also praised legislators for their willingness to put aside party politics to work on a common cause.
“I am very pleased that the bill has received overwhelming support from members of both parties, reaffirming my belief that government can be nonpartisan,” he said.
The Senate version of the bill is slated to be heard by the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee next week and at least one bill supporter is confident about its passage.
“I think this bill will fly through the Senate,” said Delegate John Arnick, D-Baltimore County.
If passed by both houses and approved by Gov. Robert Ehrlich, whose office did not return calls seeking comment, the measure could be enacted by as early as next month.
The bill will allow homeowners to apply for loans at an interest rate of 2.5 percent or lower and defer payments on the principal until the property is sold or transferred.
In addition, the act would empower the state Department of Housing and Community Development to partially guarantee bank loans of up to 115 percent of the property value.
The loans would allow homeowners to adhere to stringent federal building standards, which demand more funds than most banks are willing to lend.
“Any help in that area would be appreciated,” said Queen Anne’s County spokesman Gregory Nizza. “Not many of our citizens who were affected by Hurricane Isabel have been successful with getting aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”
Queen Anne’s, Baltimore, and Anne Arundel counties sustained the worst damage, with floods swelling to as high as 8 or 9 feet and decimating hundreds of homes.
The hurricane caused $275 million in damages, according to Department of Budget and Management estimates, driving about 17,000 Maryland residents to seek federal aid.
Approximately 300 to 362 homes will require replacement, and hundreds of others will need major repairs.
The state would bear $55 million of the damage costs and, according to bill sponsor Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, the Isabel Disaster Relief Program would cost the state another $3 million.
The number and amounts of the loans have not been estimated yet. But aside from these potential funds, homeowners received $250 million in private insurance payouts, $6.1 million in disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Association and $21.6 million in housing grants from FEMA.