WASHINGTON, D.C. – A holdup on release of $230 million in relief funds for victims of the 2016 floods could lead to a lawsuit against federal agencies, Congressman Garret Graves said Friday.
Graves, R-Baton Rouge, said he and other lawmakers will continue to push for the bureaucracies to release the money, which became available when the House and Senate struck down the Duplication of Benefits provision in late September.
The House member from Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District said he hopes it does not take a lawsuit to settle the dispute with the agencies, but he said he would take the route if necessary.
“The lawsuit is one of many tools and strategies working concurrently,” Graves told The News in a phone interview. “The lawsuit is absolutely a last resort, but my patience has run thin.”
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is the primary agency in the delay.
The funds became available in late September when the House and Senate agreed to strike down the Duplication of Benefits provision, which deemed SBA loans and Restore Louisiana funds as one in the same.
President Donald Trump signed the legislation – part of the Federal Aviation Administration bill – in early October.
Graves and other members of the Louisiana Congressional delegation hoped to have the checks to homeowners by Thanksgiving 2018.
“The law has changed, and the money is in the bank, so there’s no legitimate reason to stop payment from going to flood victims,” he said.
Graves suspects retaliation to the move by him and other House members to insert the Duplication of Benefits issue into the FAA bill. The legislation required quick approval to keep aviation and commerce intact.
“We’re being slow-rolled by bureaucrats who got their feelings hurt,” Graves said.
Graves has also brought North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello into the mix to build a stronger coalition of support to end the delay.
All three of those states suffered widespread damage from hurricanes in 2018.
“Part of the strategy has been to grow a coalition of support,” Graves said. “We want to make it clear that other places, as well, are experiencing the same problem.”
Graves and the three governors are scheduled for a conference call within two weeks with HUD Secretary Dr. Ben Carson. The conference call will serve as a follow-up to a recent meeting with federal agencies and more than a dozen members of Congress.
He has also summoned help from the Louisiana House delegation, including New Orleans Democrat Cedric Richmond – co-author of the bill – as well as Republican Minority Whip Steve Scalise of New Orleans and GOP House members Ralph Abraham of Monroe and Clay Higgins of Lafayette.
“The slow performance angers them as well, and we’re going to work that angle as much as we can,” Graves said. “I’m still confident the funds will be distributed because the law has been changed and the money is in the bank, so ultimately it will be sent to the flood victims.
“It may take rolling some heads and getting some people fired, but I’m confident that at the end of the day, we will prevail,” he said. “There’s no gray area here.”
The confidence does not ease the frustration, however.
Two years of work and passage of three bills by the House but non-action by the Senate has fueled his anger, Graves said.
“It’s been like running into brick wall after brick wall,” he said. “We finally got this bill signed into law, and we’ve been excited that we may finally be able to overcome the impediments and obstacles, so we're not stopping."