Louisiana expects to spend $649 million on homeowner rebuilding aid after the 2016 floods, only about half the federal money Congress set aside for the effort.
The Advocate reports 44 percent fewer households than anticipated are expected to access money allocated for homeowners in the Restore Louisiana program.
Despite heavy publicity, a new state report says more than 20,000 south Louisiana households with significant damage never took the first step to tap into the $1.3 billion in assistance.
All they had to do at first was fill out a five-minute damage survey.
“There is definitely a group of people in Louisiana who because they went and got their house rebuilt, they’re resilient, whatever, their son-in-law came and helped, they never asked us for money,” said Pat Forbes, director of the Office of Community Development, which oversees flood recovery. “There’s just a population in Louisiana that’s like that. They don’t want help.”
In addition, more homeowners than expected withdrew from the recovery program. Also, higher-than-expected numbers had potential award canceled out by U.S. Small Business Administration loans, flood insurance and other grants.
Nearly 54,000 households filled out damage surveys before a July 20 deadline. So far, 13,324 of those households have been awarded nearly $438 million in grant money. Forbes said he hopes to have all applications processed by the end of the year.
Of the more than 20,000 households that did not fill out surveys, more than half of them were in the worst-hit parishes during the August 2016 flood: East Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston, according to Restore Louisiana data.
As many as 12,000 of those 20,000 households didn’t receive SBA loans or flood insurance payments and likely would have needed help, program officials said.
U.S. Rep. Garret Graves, a Republican from Baton Rouge whose district encompasses much of the worst-hit areas, said his office, like the state, heavily encouraged residents to fill out the initial survey even if they had doubts that they could get assistance.
But he said people may have considered the paperwork too much red tape.
“The people that we are dealing with, we’re hearing a lot of people say, `You know what? Look. It’s just a pain in the butt,”‘ Graves said.
Forbes said the state attempted to limit the bureaucracy by tapping existing databases to avoid additional paperwork submissions and speeding up reviews.
Al and Darlene Taillon, of Ascension Parish, received a small amount of money from FEMA and had flood insurance. But they still had to pay several thousand dollars out of pocket to return to their home in spring 2017. They had no plans to seek a Restore Louisiana grant.
“We take care of us,” Darlene Taillon said. “And we take care of our neighbors and our community, and they help take care of us when we need it, as it should be.”
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