BATON ROUGE — Louisiana will need more than the $1.6 billion in federal relief money Congress approved if the state wants to ensure full recovery from the floods of 2016, an official from the Edwards Administration said Monday.
The $438 million in Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grants Congress allocated Nov. 21 as part of a “down payment” for flood relief will greatly limit assistance, state Office of Community Development Director Pat Forbes told the Press Club of Baton Rouge.
“It’s such a miniscule amount of money that we end up with a very tight group of beneficiaries,” he said.
The additional $1.3 billion may not help much more. The amount Congress approved in December fell considerably short of the $3.7 billion Governor John Bel Edwards estimated the state needs for recovery.
“It’s not a lot of money,” Forbes said. “Even with that amount, it leaves many people short of what they need to rebuild their homes.”
The Restore Louisiana Task Force will vote on the allocation plan at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 20 at the Livingston Parish Governmental Building. The meeting was originally scheduled for Jan. 6, but winter weather advisories forced postponement.
The plan allocates funding based on low-to-moderate income households. In Livingston Parish and other parishes in the Greater Baton Rouge area, the LMI cap ranges from $36,350 in a one-person household to $68,550 in a household of eight.
The current plan for $1.6 billion allows aid for only 36,000 households, far below the 100,000-plus homes which sustained damages during the flood.
“Our objective has been to get as many people back home as possible because eventually neighborhoods collapse and you don’t have the same community,” Forbes said. “We would hope to get as many people back home, but with half the money we need, that’s quite the challenge.”
Prioritized eligibility would go to household with experienced major to severe levels of damages – more than 1 foot of flooding – and those who did not have coverage under the National Food Insurance Program.
The state will not settle for a relief package with a large gap in funding, Forbes said.
Gov. Edwards will make two trips to Washington D.C. over the next month to lobby for more funds when President-elect Donald Trump takes office.
“What they’ve approved so far is not enough,” Forbes said. “The governor has committed to go back until we have enough money for a full recovery.”
Under the proposed funding breakdown, 80 percent of the funding would go toward homeowner rehabilitation and reconstruction. The first appropriation – in the $438 million relief package – would cover $388,288,000 and the second would include $935.4 million.
The package also covers 4 percent for business and agriculture. The first appropriation would funnel $12 million, while $50 million would come through the appropriation.
A total of 6 percent in funding would cover rental and public housing assistance, as well as homeless prevention. It would also allocate $20 million in the first round of funding and an additional $80 million in the second.
The funding breakdown also includes administrative funding – or 6 percent of the total amount.
Federal aid under the proposed distribution of the $1.6 billion dollars would go only to residents with severe damage and without structural flood insurance.
Residents in the low-to-moderate income bracket would receive 100 percent of the unmet need, while higher income earners would receive only a percentage of the unmet need.
The Governor’s Office of Community Development would direct most of the $1.2 billion toward homeowners, renters and small business owners:
● $935.4 million for homeowners
● $80 million for renters
● $50 million for business owners
The action plan would also set aside $105 million in matching funds for public assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. This would help local governments meet their cost-share match needed for public infrastructure improvements ‒ 25 percent for the March flood and 10 percent for the August flood.
Edwards says the Office of Community Development is also working on more recommendations for the specific eligibility requirements for families and business owners. He said the goal is to expand the number of flood survivors, especially homeowners, who receive assistance.
“We’ll write the plan for spending the $1.2 billion so we can expand the homeowner assistance program and offer at least some measure of help to everyone who had major or severe damage and did not have flood insurance,” Edwards said. “This is a critical step as we strive to help as many flood-impacted homeowners, businesses and communities with unmet needs as we possibly can.”
Details on all flood-related programs are available on the task force website, restore.la.gov.