Louisiana has submitted its plan to spend $438 million in federal flood aid, and Gov. John Bel Edwards’ administration says money should begin flowing for recovery work by April, even as the state continues to develop plans for another $1.2 billion in assistance.
The Democratic governor pushed back on Republican suggestions he’s not moved quickly enough to distribute the dollars allocated by Congress, and he said he’ll return to Washington next month to seek billions more in help for recovery from the March and August floods.
“We are grateful for the money we have received so far, but make no mistake, there are many needs left to meet,” Edwards said.
Nearly all the money under the plan sent Jan. 6 to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, about $406 million, is earmarked for homeowners’ repairs.
Pat Forbes, the governor’s leader on disaster recovery, said an estimated 4,000 households will share in that money, only a fraction of the 112,000 homes estimated to have been damaged by last year’s floods. The dollars will go to elderly and disabled residents in low- to moderate-income households without flood insurance.
The remaining slices of the financing will pay for assistance to renters and businesses.
HUD must agree to the spending. Forbes doesn’t expect that to be a problem because his office has worked with the federal agency on devising the flood recovery plans.
Republicans, including U.S. Sen. John Kennedy and U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, have criticized Edwards for moving too slowly to dole out the aid, allocated by Congress in September.
The governor said such comments are misplaced and unhelpful, and could damage Louisiana’s ability to get additional assistance. The Edwards administration blames a lengthy federal regulatory process and says its submission of a disaster recovery spending plan was faster than similar plans for hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Gustav, Ike and Isaac.
Louisiana’s senior Republican U.S. senator, Bill Cassidy, was less critical of the Edwards administration than some of his GOP colleagues, suggesting HUD’s regulatory process was too cumbersome.
“For someone whose life is totally upside down, you cannot get the money to them fast enough. That said, we’re talking about huge bureaucracies and with bureaucracies, it’s just frustrating,” said Cassidy, who lives in hard-hit Baton Rouge.
Congress recently earmarked another $1.2 billion in block grant recovery aid for Louisiana, but HUD has to publish its regulations for the money before the state can formally submit a plan to spend it.
Edwards wants to use $935 million for homeowner repair and rebuilding work, $80 million for rental housing programs, $50 million for business and agriculture assistance and $105 million to pay for state and local governments’ recovery costs.
With that second pool of funding, the Edwards administration estimates another 32,000 homeowners with major damage from the flooding can receive rebuilding assistance.
Still, the Edwards administration said the money is woefully short of what is needed for a full recovery. The governor has requested another $2 billion in disaster recovery block grant aid above what has been received from Congress.
Without more money, “the sad reality is we’re still going to have some homeowners who can’t rebuild,” Edwards said.
Louisiana’s congressional delegation members have said they’ll continue to press for more, but Cassidy also said the state first needs to show it’s spending the money already received wisely.
“No one in Washington is going to say, ‘We’re going to give you more money when you haven’t spent what you have,”‘ he said.