LIVINGSTON – Parish President Layton Ricks said he believes the state will act in the best interests of Livingston Parish, despite early concerns that funding allocations for the $1.6 billion flood relief package may shortchange Livingston Parish.
The Task Force approved the measure during its meeting at the Livingston Parish Council Chamber. The plan – drafted by the state Office of Community Development – will go up for public comment before it becomes official.
Ricks said he a long conversation Monday with Julie Baxter Payer, Deputy Chief of Staff for Gov. Edwards, who said the administration would not shortchange Livingston Parish.
“She said they’re doing all they can,” he said. “They’ve assured me they’re looking out for the best interests of our parish.”
The plan approved by the Task force would allocate $935 million for rebuilding and repairs for homeowners with damage from the March and August floods. The funds would cover only 36,000 of the 100,000-plus home which flooded – with most of the funding going toward the low-to-moderate income residents, as mandated through the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.
“Livingston Parish ought to get every dime it deserves,” Ricks said. “The way they’re manipulating this, Baton Rouge gets all the money.”
The plan disqualifies federal grant eligibility to homeowners with flood insurance or minor structural damages.
The damage estimate for Livingston Parish hovers around $1.4 billion, Ricks said.
“It’s tough enough to look at an 80-year-old, look them in the eyes and tell them you can’t offer anything,” Ricks said. “Our hope – and what we’re challenging you to do – is to look at these six parishes and help us the best you can with as much money as you can.”
Sixty-five percent of Livingston Parish residents suffered damage in the flood, Ricks said.
He believes the plan by the Office of Community Development, which will give the full relief primarily for low-to- moderate income families, overlooks a large chunk of the parish population.
“As a Christian, I have no problem helping the low-income residents – we’re supposed to that,” he said. “But we shouldn’t bypass middle-class residents and business owners.
“Who will provide jobs? If we let them wither away, there’s nobody left to provide them money,” Ricks said. “If we don’t help the middle class, upper class and businesses, we stand to have no tax base.”
The Parish President said he fears the state may bolster the numbers to give the capitol city more money, which he fears would take money off the table for Livingston Parish.
“I only ask that they make it fair and make the award proportionate to the damages suffered in every parish,” he said in an interview Monday. “I’m not trying to take away from what East Baton Rouge, Ascension or Tangipahoa get.
“They deserve the money, but so do we,” Ricks said. “It’s my job to fight for what’s best for the people of Livingston Parish.”
Federal agencies such as FEMA, the Small Business Administration, National Flood Insurance Program make it hard to carry out recovery plans.
“All these processes are flawed,” Ricks said. “People with these agencies are doing all they can, but the process is flawed … so here you are, charged with helping us with a way to recover from damages in August.”
State Rep. J. Rogers Pope, meanwhile, criticized government agencies for their poor response. He also lashed out at the mobile housing unit distribution , which has a 90-day window from approval to delivery.
The temporary housing units run in the neighborhood of $150,000. Pope offered an alternative idea.
“Just give them half the money and let them fix their damned houses,” said Pope, whose home sustained extensive damages in the flood.
A lack of adequate funding poses the biggest roadblock to providing aid for a larger number of flood victims. Gov. Edwards secured $1.6 billion in flood relief money from Congress, but he had requested $3.5 billion in what he considered the amount needed for a full recovery.
“What we have now is not enough,” Payer said.
Edwards plans to make another trip to Washington in February, she said.
Ricks also lashed out at the state Office of Community Development for its administrative costs, which range from 15 percent on the federal level to 4 percent for the state.
He and others government officials consider the amount exorbitant.
“The money you’re all in charge of is money you can use to help people get past this,” Ricks said.
The administrative fees cover the cost to run the program, as well as the program delivery, Payer said.
“It keeps the accountability in this program,” she said.
Delivery fee has gone as high for some disasters, most notably the 45 percent levied for Super Storm Sandy, which ravaged the East Coast in 2012, Payer said.
Forbes said he sees the 4 percent as the maximum and hopes to finish the project at 2 percent of the administrative costs.
State Rep. Mack “Bodi” White, who represents parts of Livingston and three other parishes, also took exception to the administrative costs.
He said the 2 percent of $1.6 billion for administrative costs would still represent a huge sum.
“That means altogether you’re looking at seventeen percent just being spent on administration – and that’s too high,” said White, R-Central.
The total breakdown in spending includes:
The action plan calls for spending:
- · $938 million for the Homeowner Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Program
- · $100 million for rental and homelessness prevention programs
- · $62 million for economic development and agriculture assistance programs
- · $105 million for FEMA public assistance non-federal share match from the state’s Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds
Under the Office of Community Development’s timeline, notice of the action plan will be published in newspapers on Feb. 1, which will start the 14-day public comment period. OCD will respond to public comments Feb. 16-17 and submit the action plan to HUD by Feb. 17.