Tornado recovery: Where has the money gone?

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sixteen tornadoes smashed through our community on Memorial Day 2019. Since that day, the Dayton Daily News has been on the ground reporting on the devastation and the work of recovery. Now, one year later, we are digging into the obstacles that remain, how the coronavirus pandemic has affected rebuilding and how communities have been changed forever. Go here for more of this coverage.


Sixteen local agencies together chipped in more than $10 million in cash, materials and labor to aid recovery from the Memorial Day 2019 tornadoes, and more than $2 million is still available, according to records provided to the Dayton Daily News by the Dayton Foundation.

Insurance companies paid out roughly $500 million in insured losses, according to the Ohio Insurance Institute. FEMA also has sent $5 million to local governments and about $4.9 million directly to residents.

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Another $4 million from the Federal Home Loan Bank and an untold additional amount from area churches, other groups and individuals also are going into the rebuilding effort.

The Dayton Foundation received a total of $2.2 million in donations from the public to the tornado relief fund, and contributed $400,000 of its own funds. Of that, about $1.5 million remains.


“The good news is we’re getting it in to keep replenishing the fund, but we’re not growing the fund,” said Jeanne Holihan, vice president of operations at the Dayton Foundation.

The group had planned on a fundraiser this year as the weather gets warmer and rebuilding could begin in earnest. But with the coronavirus pandemic, that might not happen.

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“We’re going to try to manage it as if we won’t get additional resources because there will be conflicted needs with COVID now, so that would be the prudent way to handle the recovery,” she said.

Many of the agencies helping with rebuilding also are taking a financial hit from the pandemic, she said, but the tornado funds are earmarked for that purpose and won’t be moved to cover other expenses.

The $10 million contributed includes cash, but also in-kind contributions such as the University of Dayton letting people stay at dorms, more than $2 million in food donated by the Foodbank in the weeks after the storm, and 95,000 volunteer hours valued at $2.4 million.

“It shows a commitment and a collaborative effort by the organizations here in Dayton to work toward this community rebuild,” Holihan said.

The full financial cost of rebuilding from the Memorial Day 2019 tornadoes might never be known. Not only is the work is ongoing, but also the time and money provided by churches, neighbors, scout packs and other community members isn’t tallied.

Federal aid

Area governments also played a major role in rebuilding. The Federal Emergency Management Agency reimbursed local governments $5 million for costs incurred during the storm.

The largest reimbursements were $1.2 million paid to the Ohio Emergency Management Agency for management costs; and $701,587 and $602,692 paid to the cities of Beavercreek and Dayton, respectively, for debris removal.

FEMA paid out $4.9 million in aid directly to tornado survivors. Payments went to 493 homeowners and 1,148 renters.

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The federal agency denied 5,267 applications. Of those, 354 people appealed and 67 of them were paid after their appeal.

Some federal funds have been slow to come. The Dayton Foundation contributed $180,000 as a match to help secure $720,000 from the Economic Development Administration to hire someone to coordinate recovery over five years. The EDA money just came in February. The person will likely be hired this summer, and part of his or her job will be to secure additional funds from federal agencies.

$20k grants available

The Federal Home Loan Bank of Cincinnati, a consortium of financial institutions, made funds available each year over two years for grants to pay for repairs. Local agencies are using this major tool this year because it can get homeowners up to $20,000 that doesn’t have to be repaid.

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To qualify, a property must be owner-occupied and the applicant must meet income eligibility requirements of no more than $79,005 for a household of three or more people.

Last year the agencies that administer the program secured $954,822 in grants for 135 households. This year the program has approved $341,381 in grants to 27 households so far, so agencies are trying to find more people who qualify.

Call the United Way tornado survivor helpline at 211 to learn more about the program.